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Pro Bono

Whether providing assistance to an individual at one of our community based weekly legal clinics, or working on a cross-jurisdiction matter for a global NGO, providing pro bono legal advice is a fundamental part of our CR programme.

We are signatories of the Law Society's Pro Bono Charter which supports high quality pro bono work across the profession and a commitment to access to justice.

Charter signatory - The Law Society - Pro bono 2023

Trust Law

Trust Law is the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono service. CMS have been members since 2011 and have successfully been involved in a large number of national and international pro bono projects. More recently, we have been working alongside our clients’ in-house legal teams to support a wide range of pro bono projects.

“CMS has been an active member of TrustLaw right from the start and has taken on 79 pro bono projects through TrustLaw. Recently, CMS hosted a legal workshop for NGOs and social enterprises in Scotland, an event that was extremely useful for our Scottish members who are trying to understand their commercial and operational legal issues. It was a valuable opportunity for them to speak to lawyers face-to-face about issues ranging from intellectual property, to corporate governance and employment matters. CMS continues to support us by working on a guide and webinar on data protection for our members.” Lauren Meyer, Head of Legal, Trust Law

Charity Matters – A charity incorporation podcast series

At CMS, our lawyers are regularly asked to provide legal support to groups and individuals who want to set up charities. These range from small local charities to larger projects intended to create significant national or international benefit. Frequently, those involved do not have previous experience of the process and as a result, after discussing their proposals with us, find that they need to take account of matters they had not anticipated.

We have created this short podcast series to share our expertise in a user-friendly format, enabling charity incorporators to fill in any gaps in their understanding of what is needed early in the process, so they can address these issues before they get their projects up and running.   Episodes cover the key legal issues that need to be addressed when setting up a charity. We hope you find them useful and that your projects are a great success.

Episode 1 – Introduction to setting up a charity

What does it mean to be a charity? Our first episode sets out some of the fundamental concepts relevant to the incorporation of charities, such as “charitable purposes”, “public benefit” and a charity’s “objects”. We also explore the different legal forms a charity can take, which includes addressing (i) the difference between incorporated and unincorporated legal forms, (ii) the four key legal forms charities take, including the form specific to charities (the CIO), which has become the default option for most new charities, (iii) the key differences between the forms (and offer some guidance on when each different legal form would be most appropriate), and (iv) how to go about setting up each particular legal form.

Episode 2 - Alternatives to setting up a charity

Often, prospective incorporators have not considered whether setting up a charity is actually the most appropriate way to achieve their objectives. Episode 2 concentrates on the benefits and detriments of using a charity instead of other “not-for-profit” legal structures. The alternatives to incorporating a charity that we look at are community interest companies (or CICs), not for profit companies limited by guarantee (or CLGs), and the option of donating to an already existing charity. After describing each of them, we then discuss the pros & cons of incorporating a charity rather than using one of these alternatives.

Episode 3 - The constitution of a CIO

There are valuable benefits in being a charity. However, in return for those benefits, there are limitations too, some of which have to be addressed in the charity’s constitution. In episode 3, we provide a general overview of what the constitutional documents of a charitable incorporated organisation (or ‘CIO’ for short) are. In particular, we look at the different form of constitutions which may be adopted by the CIO: the Foundation model constitution or the Association model constitution, and some of the matters which the constitution is concerned with. Finally, we’ll touch on who the trustees and members of a CIO may be.

Episode 4 - Managing conflicts

Charities, rightly, have a special status in our society. No other private organisations exist exclusively for public benefit. But as a result, the trustees, and those who run the charities, are judged by strict standards as custodians of funds that the public has provided to enable them to do good works. In episode 4, we look at two key principles that apply to trustees: the “no conflict rule” and the “no profit rule”. We describe a trustee’s duties to the charity, managing, avoiding and authorising conflicts of interests, and the consequences of breaching these rules. We also review the circumstances in which trustees may receive authorised payments from their charity.

Episode 5 - Application for registration

Having done all the groundwork, incorporators will be ready to make the application for registration, which is done online. However, this is not entirely straightforward and a reasonable amount of information usually needs to be prepared and provided. In the final podcast in this mini-series, we explore the key aspects of the process to register a charity with the Charity Commission. The podcast covers three main themes: we describe the process itself, and highlight some pitfalls that should be avoided; we outline the supporting documents you will, or are likely to, need to prepare; and finally, we look at the application itself and walk through some tricky issues that frequently need to be considered.

Dentsu Aegis Network Pro Bono Partnership

In 2018 we formed a pro bono partnership with Dentsu Aegis Network - working collaboratively to provide pro bono support to deserving charities and NGOs via our relationship with TrustLaw. We are delighted to have been instructed to provide support on various legal projects for organisations such as Third Age Project, Thomson Reuters Foundation and Justice and Care UK.

Legal Clinics in London

CMS volunteers in London support the Islington Law Centre and St. Luke’s Legal Advice Centre. These weekly clinics provide free legal advice to those who cannot afford legal services. Our lawyers provide a range of advice on subjects such as utility disputes; landlord and tenant problems; consumer complaints and employment issues. 

A4ID (Advocates for International Development)

CMS is a founding partner of A4ID - a global charity that works in partnership with the world’s leading law firms to provide free access to legal advice for NGOs. We have provided pro bono legal advice on nearly 100 projects, working with a range of international charities.

Building strong partnerships - Marie Curie

We provide a range of pro bono legal advice to many charities, including Marie Curie – a charity that provides care and support for people living with any terminal illness, and their families. 

“The support we’ve received from CMS’s property team has been amazing. I regularly express my disbelief to my colleagues about the scale of the generosity – we’ve had advice on countless matters in the last year, saving us over £100k. We’re never made to feel like a second-rate pro bono client – in fact the speed and quality of response is better than what we would get from many a paid lawyer! CMS are making an incredibly valuable contribution to our mission: to provide terminally ill people with high quality care.”  Miranda Fisher, Legal Counsel, Marie Curie

CMS pro bono collaboration with Inspiring Scotland

Inspiring Scotland tackles some of the long-term, entrenched social problems in Scotland. They are a venture philanthropy organisation, meaning they apply venture capital principles – such as long-term investment and tailored development support – to the voluntary sector. Their staff tailors their support to each charity’s unique circumstances and helps them develop their work. To complement that support, they have established a network of pro bono supporters – professionals and experts with a wide variety of skills – who help the charities with one-off projects or commit to continued support.

CMS was one of the founding corporate partners in the pro bono supporters’ group and is an integral part of the non-financial support they offer to charities. A charity supported last year commented: “We have been extremely fortunate to have such an esteemed firm act on our behalf and the fact that it is through a pro bono scheme is incredible. For a small charity like ourselves this has had a very positive impact financially and taken away any kind of organisational stresses we were beginning to experience.”

16. Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

17. Partnerships for the Goals

For full details on our programmes, please take a look at our CR Review.