In The Corner Office we ask Managing Partners across Central and Eastern Europe about their unique roles and responsibilities. The question this time: “What one ongoing pro bono initiative or project or charity/volunteering project that your firm is involved with has the most meaning for you personally, and why?”
"As a regional Corporate Responsibility partner, I work on a number of projects. However, if I could just pick one that is closest to my heart, I’d go for the charity project during which we buy personal Christmas presents for kids who would otherwise have to go without. We are holding this for the third year now. Previously, we supported a cancer clinic for children in Debrecen; last year we helped an orphanage for disabled kids in Budapest. Each year we receive a list of around 30 present requests saying, for example, Peter: 5 years old, a remote-controlled model car, or Petra, 13 years old: my own mini Christmas tree. We buy, wrap, and deliver them. It’s overwhelming to see how happy they are when opening the presents. I know that our colleagues are equally enthusiastic and the sign-up to provide the presents is always full within days.”
Erika Papp, Managing Partner, CMS Budapest
"Over the years, the Gugushev & Partners Law Office has developed a CSR policy corresponding with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in this spirit, we undertake various initiatives. However, the one most inspiring for me and the team was a new long-term and unusual project we launched last year, namely The Funny Notebook of Gugushev & Partners. Through the Notebook, which features a collection of cheerful illustrations, we support young artists of Bulgaria while also presenting the legal profession in a different light through the prism of humor. This year, we continue this project with a second edition, featuring the work of Yulia Zlateva, another young and talented Bulgarian artist, who through her entertaining work is helping us to showcase 14 (un)known rights. We believe that the power of law is built on each individual’s knowledge of his or her rights, and we hope to empower that knowledge through this year’s Notebook. Reaching that goal, while also promoting a young artist, makes this project even more delightful."
Victor Gugushev, Partner, Gugushev & Partners
"I must admit that selecting the charities to contribute to (in either way) has always been a difficult decision, as each of them is noble and serves a good cause. We are actively involved in several charities but one shines the brightest in terms of personal significance. Hospice Casa Sperantei, part of Hospices of Hope U.K., is the leading palliative care provider and it is with dedication and continuity that we support them with pro bono legal work. Their mission is very close to our hearts as we have dealt with close ones suffering from terminal illnesses and we know that professional, qualified, empathetic, and furthermore free palliative intensive assistance would have made a huge difference to them, as it would to all those in need of it.”
Alina Popescu, Founding Partner, MPR Partners
"Our firm has been a supporter of charity and art-related initiatives since early on. The most meaningful recent project for me personally has been our collaboration with the Latvian National Museum of Art in creating an educational app and video series about aspects of artwork in the museum. We started the project with ‘The Story of One Painting’ (2017 and 2018) and ‘The Story of One Photographer’ (2019) where each ‘season’ made a new educational path through the museum. However, the highlight was the latest one released in 2020 – ‘Art Restoration in the Museum.’ This latest part of the series uncovers the invisible side of the museum and the magical work of art restorers. And it comes just in time – in video format, accessible online from the safety of your home. I watched all the series with great interest myself and I believe that they all provide remarkable answers to many questions asked by museum visitors and art lovers.”
Liga Merwin, Managing Partner, Ellex Klavins
"Over the years, CMS in involved in many pro-bono and public interest projects, most notably our long-standing collaboration with the Cedar Foundation in Bulgaria.
The one pro-bono project that I cherish most was a sexual harassment case, which was happening for years in the representative office of a leading Western company in Sofia (and which is not our client). I was introduced to the case by a friend and met one of the victims. As the case unfolded, we met several of the victims over the years who had left the organization due to the ongoing sexual harassment at the workplace. The case was prepared by us and presented to the headquarters of the company, and following their internal rules, the company investigated the matter and confirmed our conclusions. As a result, the respective offenders were dismissed and the company has enjoyed a socially acceptable environment ever since.”
Kostadin Sirleshtov, Managing Partner, CMS Sofia
"Growing organically over the course of years by bringing numerous new colleagues onboard and engaging in an ever-expanding variety of matters, the firm has inevitably become increasingly ingrained not only in the local community but also wider. Accordingly, I have always felt giving back to the community as being part and parcel of our profession and an essential cog in the firm’s overall growth. Therefore, while embarking on various projects personally, I have increasingly become supportive of various worthy causes pursued by my colleagues, with the annual pro bono day of the Slovenian Bar Association one I am particularly fond of.
Namely, non-legally trained individuals find it gruesomely and increasingly challenging to handle the ins and outs of the modern complex legal environment, with the situation aggravated for the disadvantaged and people in need, whose opportunity to obtain skilled legal advice often borders on impossibility. Seeing access to justice as paramount, we have thus for over a decade proudly taken part in this event, marking the founding anniversary of the local Bar, bridging the gap to skills short in supply and great in need, and seeking to provide benefit to the community, as well as increasing awareness and personal growth of the participating colleagues."
Uros Ilic, Managing Partner, ODI Law
"Through my expertise focus on corporate governance, responsibility of management, etc., I came into contact with Transparency International Czech Republic. I was asked whether our law firm could support TI through ad hoc legal advisory. A number of other law firms had refused, as they were afraid of the reactions of their clients. We did not share these worries, as we focused on a clean business and started to help to reduce corruption in the Czech Republic. Ten years ago I was elected to the Board of Directors of TI and then also to the position of the Chairman of the Board. I am very proud that as the Chairman of the Board I was able to help to stabilize TI CZ as a long-term-focused organization that protects public interest irrespective of any political pressures and that TI CZ has demonstrated its irreplaceable position as the main anti-corruption power in the Czech Republic.”
Jan Spacil, Senior Managing Partner, Deloitte Legal Czech Republic
"At Taylor Wessing Czech Republic, we support several pro bono projects, including two very close to my heart. First, Jeziskova Vnoucata, sponsored by Czech Radio, is aimed at bringing joy and happiness to senior citizens in care homes. In 2018, we ‘adopted’ a group of pensioners at a home in Rozdalovice. Before the pandemic, we visited regularly and gave them presents. Above all, our friends appreciated that we spent time with them. Unfortunately, we could not visit this year, but the second project provided a solution. The Dejme Detem Sanci non-profit organization helps children and teenagers in children’s homes. They produce chocolate advent calendars, which we will give as presents to our pensioner friends to bring some festive cheer at Christmas. We also support its Wishing Tree project. In doing so, we want help make the Christmas wishes of children and teenagers at children’s homes come true.”
Erwin Hanslik, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing Prague
"Law firms often engage in pro bono projects where they want to secure some positive PR effect. But when it comes to true charity, partners often cannot find consensus on how to spend the firm’s money because such spending is inconsistent with their own priorities and ideas on what projects would be crucial. That’s why in our firm the most prominent pro bono initiatives are financed by various groups of partners who find a particular initiative appealing to their heart.
In my view, the most meaningful pro bono and charity initiative that we had recently was the creation of the DYHAI (in English, “Breeze”) charity foundation. It all started this past spring, when we realized that the Ukrainian medical system was not ready to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, our contacts from state hospitals reported a lack of ventilators, personal protective equipment, and other medical supplies. A group of our partners quickly collected the initial UAH 3.5 million for which there was an urgent request from three hospitals in our city. Because of the bureaucracy involved in importing medical devices for charitable contributions and difficulties in dealing with state hospitals, many of our clients and friends volunteered to contribute further funds, but they did not want to deal with the logistics. In response, we decided that the best way to help the country and structure this support would be to create a charitable foundation that would engage professional staff to handle all the logistics. That’s how the DYHAI charitable foundation came into being, created jointly by our partners and Ukrainian businessmen. Today the foundation continues to raise funds, procure supplies, and provide assistance to Ukrainian hospitals, doctors, and scientists who are struggling with the spread of the coronavirus in Ukraine.”
Vladimir Sayenko, Partner, Sayenko Kharenko
This Article was originally published in Issue 7.11 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.