Partnering with Clifford Chance for refugees’ access to justice worldwide

Asylum Access’s expansion plans were born from the idea that by developing a critical mass of countries within a region that abide by international conventions relating to refugees, these countries would begin to raise the bar on refugee rights and stimulate the development of region-wide frameworks for refugee rights protection.

Over the last two years, Asylum Access’s legal services have gone from serving 5,000 to 16,000 refugees per year across our offices in Ecuador, Thailand and Tanzania. In just the past year, we have increased our presence in Southeast Asia, and established a region-wide Latin American office, with headquarters in Ecuador.

We’re reaching more refugees and advocating for new policies that support refugee rights around the world, achievements that have been made possible due to a continued partnership with one of the ten largest law firms in the world, the Clifford Chance Law Firm.

Six years in the making

Asylum Access’s relationship with Clifford Chance dates back to 2008, when their Bangkok office supported Asylum Access Thailand through a small grant. In 2012, we were selected as one of their “Global Strategic Pro Bono and Community Outreach Relationships” – that is, international NGOs working in the areas of access to justice, education and finance. We received a three-year grant from the Clifford Chance Foundation toward our expansion plans, as well as pro bono support in the form of extensive due-diligence desk and field research, helping us shortlist 11 countries from an initial list of 30 countries that we were considering for expansion.

According to Clifford Chance Pro Bono Director Tom Dunn, the organizations selected by the firm “go to the very heart of a problem they are trying to solve.” By supporting these organizations both financially and through pro bono work, Clifford Chance can help them scale up their solutions. Already supporting 14 NGOs through this program, their vision is to eventually identify and support at least twenty.

Long-term support through pro-bono services and direct funding

In partnering with these NGOs, Clifford Chance emphasizes the importance of cultivating long-term relationships that encourage a more meaningful collaboration. “We don’t want these relationships to end when the funding does”, Dunn explains.

Clifford Chance’s strategy to support in providing both direct funding and pro-bono services differentiates them from other law firms, many of which limit assistance to pro bono support on an ad-hoc basis. An international firm with offices in 26 countries, Clifford Chance’s pro bono services and expertise are indispensible to international NGOs, while their direct funding enables organizations to effectively address complex global issues. “It’s a very good package, and a good offer to be able to make,” says Dunn.

To provide adequate support, Clifford Chance assigns a firm partner to each of the selected organizations. In our case, we work closely with Alexandra Hageleuken, a partner at the Frankfurt office. Committed to the firm’s pro bono work, Clifford Chance partners are also closely involved in making decisions about pro bono support at the local level. Similarly, the Clifford Chance Foundation’s Board, which decides where and how to allocate funding, is comprised of partners from all 36 international offices.

What next?

Beginning in 2014, Asylum Access embarked on a new pro bono project with Clifford Chance’s Brussels office. By undertaking policy advocacy with the European Commission and European governments, Asylum Access aims to participate in and influence how refugee funding is allocated, shifting the focus from short-term humanitarian aid to long-term, rights based solutions. Our expertise in rights based refugee solutions, combined with the Brussels office’s invaluable experience working in the European context will significantly increase our potential for success in this project.

As a firm that stands out in its commitment to enabling effective change and supporting its pro bono clients, we are excited to continue our partnership with Clifford Chance, working together to increase refugees’ access to justice and advocating for their rights at a global level.

Written by Development Associate Sally Sharrow