This project highlight is on the Greece Pro Bono Collaborative, a collaboration between the NGO European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL) and six international law firms – Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Charles Russell Speechlys, Dentons, Orrick and White & Case.

PILnet bestowed this Collaborative the 2020 Publico Award in recognition of their extraordinary, passionate, and long-standing commitment to service for the public good.

What is the gap the pro bono model is trying to address?

In Greece, where an upsurge in asylum claims since 2015 has overwhelmed the asylum system, asylum seekers’ fundamental legal needs remain largely unmet. While Greece has a legal aid system, it is only for the appeal stage of the asylum process. This means there is no state-provided legal assistance to reach, inform, and advise asylum seekers before their first asylum interview, which often takes place at only a few days’ notice.

How is the project structured?

Two to three trained law firm volunteers are seconded at any one time to the ELIL team, for two weeks. The law firm volunteers work closely with ELIL staff (including Greek lawyers and coordinators) and ELIL longer-term volunteer lawyers that are experts in European Union asylum law. Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, law firm volunteers were seconded in person to Lesvos. Since the pandemic began, law firm volunteers have instead supported ELIL remotely.

Law firm volunteers primarily support the asylum lawyers with consultations with asylum-seekers preparing for first instance interviews, including with the submission of additional documents and research memoranda, as well as family reunification work. Pre-COVID, in-person volunteers also held legal information group sessions, fielded procedural inquiries and registered new clients.

The project was launched after a full year of research and discussions around how to set up a pro bono initiative that meaningfully utilized the capacity of lawyers in large international law firms that were not asylum law specialists. Key features of the collaboration include comprehensive self-study online training modules and a video call workshop covering both the legal and policy framework and working with vulnerable clients, close supervision provided by specialized ELIL lawyers, and self-care support measures for the lawyers involved. Each firm partner commits a significant amount in funding to ELIL each year to contribute to the training, supervision, and coordination costs of the project.

What is the impact of this project?

Based on data collected by ELIL, asylum-seekers that receive advice from lawyers through ELIL have an approximately 30 percent greater chance of gaining international protection. As of March 2021, the Greek Collaborative project had provided ELIL with 65+ law firm volunteers, which significantly increased their capacity. It is estimated that the project has supported ELIL to reach an additional 1,500+ asylum seekers.