Global Pro Bono Program of the Year, Single Jurisdiction: Legal Assistance to Sierra Leone
Honoree: Herbert Smith Freehills
The recent history of the West African nation of Sierra Leone has been characterized by a succession of coups and counter-coups, culminating in a brutal civil war between 1991 and 2001. During this time over 50,000 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands more displaced to refugee camps in neighboring Guinea and Liberia. But the country of six million has made considerable progress since then, with a unicameral democracy restored in 2007.
Nonetheless, 70 percent of the population lives in poverty—and Sierra Leone has some way to go before it makes good its potential (much of which lies beneath the ground in the form of mineral wealth.) Expensive legal fees are not an indulgence the country can afford. Still, it has at its disposal the services of one of the world’s largest law firms, Herbert Smith Freehills.
Herbert Smith launched a partnership for the provision of pro bono advice to the government of Sierra Leone in September 2011, seconding senior associate Daniel Hoyle to the country for six months. Since the beginning of the effort, over 40 partners, associates, and trainees have been involved in the project.
The objective is to help the country with its development goals, and to date the firm has advised on drafting legislation, legal policies and reviewing processes, and delivering training programs for government lawyers and officials. In the past year, the firm says, it has advised on 11 matters relating to policy, legislation, and transactions in the energy, infrastructure, health, finance and environment sectors, with a total value in excess of £1m ($1.55m).
Its efforts have not gone unnoticed. At a London event in 2012 Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma told delegates that as his country’s leader, it could be “disheartening to get to the negotiating table and find yourself confronted by a phalanx of lawyers and accountants…outnumbering your own side ten to one.” But, he said, his country had “benefited immensely” from the support of Herbert Smith. A presidential endorsement—need we say more?