Irish law charities make their mark internationally

Mon, Nov 12, 2012, 00:00

LAW UPDATE:The Law Society of Ireland and the Bar Council of Ireland have slowly been coming together to make their mark in the field of international development.

A project in South Africa that began in 2002 quickly gave life to projects in Ethiopia, Zambia, Malawi, Bosnia Herzegovnia and Kosovo. As projects began to expand, it became quite apparent that Irish lawyers have a lot to contribute to the enhancement of rule of law overseas.

Two years ago, the Law Society and the Bar Council decided to formally collaborate, in the first joint initiative of its kind, by establishing the charity Irish Rule of Law International (IRLI).

The organisation seeks to drive interest and pro-bono activism among lawyers here in Ireland by facilitating opportunities to volunteer overseas, assisting development organisations through the provision of free legal advice and assistance, and promoting awareness on how lawyers can use law as a tool in international development.

The long-standing association with South Africa, and specifically with the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), has been hugely formative for the charity. The partnership originated when the LSSA approached the Law Society of Ireland for assistance in delivering practical training in commercial law to lawyers from the black community.

The need for training in this area was particularly acute as there was little opportunity for such lawyers to become commercial legal practitioners; the reasons being both economic and societal. The LSSA recognised how critical it is to enhance the skill and capacity of black lawyers who can then use these skills to promote economic and social progress in their country through the effective representation of local entrepreneurs and foreign investors.

Since that time IRLI, with the generous support of Irish Aid, has undertaken two intensive commercial law training courses a year, reaching over 400 disadvantaged black lawyers. Each year IRLI strives to enhance the training provided and in 2012 a new programme of activity was designed to further erode the economic imbalance through greater emphasis on skill transfer. A year-long course was devised to include extended face-to-face training, distance learning, mentoring and placement opportunities.

While most of the placements are completed with large South African law firms, two participants are in Ireland undergoing two month placements with William Fry and Eversheds Solicitors. Ms Ntombi Rikhotso and Mr Martin Sambo both come from sole practitioner or family run practices and are using their time in Ireland to up-skill in a bid to attract business clients to their respective firms.

IRLI has seen many success stories over the years, with past participants climbing the ranks to become Magistrates or burgeoning commercial practitioners.

With South Africa moving steadily towards the “developed” world, it seems that it is initiatives such as this that are ensuring a better, more inclusive, economic future for all.