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Activist banking

15 August 16

You might not think of RBS and Govan Law Centre as having shared interests in the law, but the bank, supported by four panel firms, is in partnership to support GLC’s social justice work

by RBS Legal Team

The Royal Bank of Scotland has adopted several core strategic values, which steer the way the bank operates and guide its conduct. A key component is supporting the communities in which the bank operates. Its in-house legal team, RBS Legal, has sought to promote these values through partnering with a community law centre, with the aim of supporting positive social change and helping address unmet legal need.

The back story to the collaboration involved the head of the Services Legal team at RBS, Kenny Robertson. Twenty years ago, as a law student in Glasgow, Robertson volunteered at the Legal Services Agency, which introduced him to the law centre movement and its deployment of the law to protect vulnerable members of the community. There he met Mike Dailly, social justice activist and now principal solicitor at Govan Law Centre (GLC). According to Robertson, GLC was an obvious choice to partner with.

“The lawyers at RBS are fortunate in that we are employed by an organisation which actively encourages our participation in pro bono and social inclusion programmes, with each lawyer’s individual engagement assessed as part of the performance review cycle. For a number of years, we have been trying to identify ways in which, as a large in-house legal function, we could meaningfully use our resources and network to promote both social inclusion and access to justice. As GLC has been recognised for its innovative and award-winning work in social welfare, and the critical support it provides to vulnerable members of its communities, we began to have initial discussions around possible collaboration opportunities.”

From these discussions, it became clear to RBS that the provision of additional resource would provide GLC with much needed capacity to broaden and enhance the critical support it provides to Govan and Govanhill in relation to homelessness, discrimination and social welfare law generally.

“We sought to deliver this resource through leveraging the bank’s network and implementing a partnership model to create and fund a new trainee solicitor position at GLC,” says Robertson. “Four of the bank’s panel law firms (CMS, DLA, Brodies and Pinsent Masons) were approached and invited to work with RBS and GLC to progress the initiative.

“The result has been what we think is a groundbreaking initiative to help address unmet legal need: each of the firms, together with RBS, collaborated to meet the cost of a two-year traineeship in a community with an acute requirement for legal support to the vulnerable and disadvantaged.”

In August 2015, a volunteer at GLC was recruited to the trainee solicitor position. The trainee does no work for RBS, or any of the panel firms, whose role is restricted to funding and facilitating the opportunity. The participating firms were, “from the outset, enthusiastic supporters of the project”, and each has offered the trainee access to their technical and soft skills training programmes.

Wider gains

GLC additionally benefited from the traineeship being incorporated within the Justice First Fellowship programme operated by the Legal Education Foundation (LEF), described at Journal, July 2016, 23. LEF support allowed GLC to receive investment to cover its management and supplementary training costs, and new technology to assist the traineeship. The GLC programme is one LEF is keen to see replicated elsewhere, reflecting RBS Legal’s ambitions to drive more progressive partnerships between in-house and private practice legal teams, particularly as a means to address unmet legal need in a meaningful way.

For GLC, this additional resource has been invaluable, as Dailly explains: “The recruitment of an additional member to our legal team will provide much-needed additional capacity to take on more cases to prevent homelessness, defend evictions and repossession, assist in a wide range of social welfare cases, and ultimately help vulnerable clients get into a position to better manage their finances, stabilise and resolve various problems in their lives and get back on an even keel.

“Being able to create a new opportunity for a law graduate to enter the Scottish legal profession was of itself a worthy cause; however, the ability to contribute to the future leadership of those practising in the fields of public and social welfare law has longer-term benefits. Our joint initiative with RBS and its panel firms has already helped improve the lives of hundreds of vulnerable clients across Glasgow, and will enable us to pilot new initiatives for traditionally hard-to-reach prospective clients.”

The GLC partnership sits within a wider social inclusion programme pursued by RBS Legal. This includes pro bono support to Livingston CAB and Homeless Action Scotland, and its “First Steps” programme providing work experience for young people in communities where opportunities might be more restricted.

In line with original intentions, RBS’s relationship with GLC has developed. One of its own trainees recently spent part of their traineeship there, experiencing contentious court work from the perspective of low income and financially vulnerable clients. The feedback from this secondment has been extremely positive, and RBS is confident that the experience will develop financial services lawyers with a more rounded understanding of the critical role ethical and responsible banking has across vulnerable communities.

Contributed by the RBS Legal team 

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