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CSR takes centre stage

17 March 08

As the Society-sponsored CSR Firm of the Year is announced at the Scottish Legal Awards, the Society launches a web resource to help increase solicitors' involvement

Solicitors have long made a valuable contribution to the wider community. And those links will be further strengthened through an innovative project launched by the Society this month.

Building on the current participation of solicitors in pro bono, outreach and charity work, the Society is creating a central resource for solicitors and firms hoping to get more involved in corporate social responsibility opportunities. The new web portal will provide information about projects in Scotland and elsewhere, while also helping to put charitable and voluntary organisations in touch with solicitors.

Neil Stevenson, the Society’s Head of Strategic Change, explains: “CSR, or corporate social responsibility, is becoming increasingly important for firms and we saw the value in responding to that trend. We want to encourage lawyers to think about how they might be able to assist local communities or even developing countries, and how volunteering might help them develop personally and professionally.

“As a result, we’re building a web resource with links on to other organisations and groups. There will be themed areas, with ‘volunteering’ being the first, and ‘the environment’ likely to be the second.”

Organisations such as Challenges Worldwide – which provides legal volunteering opportunities, often helping to support developing countries and their legal systems – and Volunteer Scotland, the umbrella body for a network of local centres offering hundreds of volunteering options, are backing the scheme.

Stevenson adds: “These groups do great work so I’m really pleased we are co-operating on this. It also helps us get a better understanding of what volunteering is about and how we can help.

“We see lots of benefits to volunteering – from allowing individuals to develop new skills and learn to work with people who have different experiences of life, to building confidence and communication skills. It is also about allowing solicitors to put something back.

“We know many young lawyers, in particular, are starting to ask firms about what opportunities there are to get involved in things like this. The Society wants to make sure we can support and encourage our membership as much as possible.”

The Society also sponsored the CSR Firm of the Year Award at last month’s annual Cuthbert Scottish Legal Awards, with McGrigors winning the award in recognition of its Horizons programme as well as its active support of charities and pro bono work.

McGrigors contributes to several charitable organisations across the UK, such as Project Scotland where the firm’s staff work as mentors for volunteers aged 16-25. The longest running project in which McGrigors is involved is the Mark Scott Foundation, which addresses divisive issues in society by bringing together young people from different backgrounds across Scotland.

Launched in April 2006, McGrigors’ Horizons programme has so far enabled staff to contribute 3,776 hours of voluntary and pro bono work.  The value of this work, in addition to donations made to local and national charities, brings McGrigors’ total financial contribution to a value of £341,597.

Kirk Murdoch, McGrigors’ senior partner in Scotland and chairman of the firm’s Horizons steering committee, said: “As a prominent Scottish business it is our duty to support charities which we feel can have the greatest impact. We encourage every member of staff to contribute to the programme and to use their skills for the benefit of those worthwhile causes.”

More information on volunteering opportunities is available at www.lawscot.org.uk.


CSR PARTNER: INTRODUCING CHALLENGES WORLDWIDE

Challenges Worldwide (CWW) is an award winning Scottish social enterprise, constituted as an international development charity and based in Scotland.

CWW aims to support the development of the most socially and economically disadvantaged members of society and promotes environmental sustainability by working to strengthen the capacity of our partners overseas. CWW works with both individual volunteers and employers from the UK to match skills and expertise to the organisational development needs of delivery partner organisations around the world.

The Belize NCFC project

In 2002, CWW partnered with the National Committee for Families and Children (NCFC), a quasi-government organisation formed in 1994 specifically to advise the Belizean Government on matters relating to families and children.

The task was to audit the entire Belize legal system as it related to families and children. Over three years, CWW placed six solicitors as advisers with NCFC, working with them to review the legal areas of the Families and Children’s Act; child protection; child law; adoption; the child abuse protection system; and commercial sexual exploitation.

At the end of the three years, the NCFC travelled to Geneva to have the proposed amendments developed by the legal volunteers approved by the UN. Approval was granted and the amendments brought Belize legislation in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

CWW has since worked with various government and civil agencies as well as community organisations to develop materials and provide training on the implications of the new laws.

Through the amendments, the NCFC is now able to work towards a protective environment and ensure that the Belize Government meets its national and international obligations as party to the CRC. It can monitor and evaluate child protection systems, raise public awareness of relevant legislation, ensure that various institutions understand and are compliant with the child protection standards, and recommend and advocate new policies for the care and protection of children.


VOLUNTEER: RAHEEL KHAN

Solicitor Raheel Khan considers working on a project to improve the Belize legal system for families and children as one of his most rewarding professional and personal experiences. Raheel, 35, became involved in volunteering through the Edinburgh-based charity Challenges Worldwide.

He says: “Although I had travelled independently in the past, I had never worked in a foreign country, and aside from a few pro bono sessions as a trainee I had never experienced such rewarding work. I would never have dreamt that being a lawyer could in fact make such a positive difference in the lives of so many people. One of my most rewarding experiences was hearing my summary of the new legislation I was working on being read out on national television by the Attorney General as part of one of his speeches. I wonder what the chances are of this ever happening in the UK?”

Challenges Worldwide worked with the Belizean National Committee on Families and Children to audit the country’s legal system as it related to families and children, resulting in legislative changes that enshrined in law the rights and wellbeing of children in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.


VOLUNTEER: EMMA CRAWSHAW

Emma Crawshaw began volunteering to make a difference – and urges others to do the same. Emma, 35, says working as a volunteer for the Edinburgh and Lothians Racial Equality Council is very different to her paid job, manager of the YWCA Roundabout Project, a women’s community centre.

She says: “I got involved in volunteering for lots of reasons. I was aware that the Council had gone through lots of changes and I wanted to offer my support to its work. Promoting equality and challenging discrimination is something that I feel very strongly about. Volunteering has offered me the opportunity to challenge myself in a very different organisation and I’ve really benefited from using my listening and leadership skills in a different context.

“People come from a wider age range than I work with in my paid position, with a very diverse spectrum of opinions and experience. Through volunteering, I have been able to push myself in areas that I couldn’t have before. I’ve gained a real insight into race equality issues and how management boards work. We all suffer when injustice goes unchallenged, so I’d really encourage people to get involved and make a difference.”