Spotlight: RedLaw interviews…Rob Powell, Head of Pro Bono & CSR, Weil, Gotshal & Manges

By RedLaw | 27 Sep, 2017

This month, RedLaw stole a few minutes with Rob Powell from Weil, Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP to discuss the world of Pro Bono, Corporate Responsibility and what keeps him motivated to go to work every day.

During the last ten years, Weil has performed over 900,000 hours of pro-bono work globally. Why is it important for the firm to perform this work and what impact does it have on both the firm itself and the employees who deliver the work?

At Weil we have for a long time referred to pro bono work as ‘Our Finest Hours’ which is a description I’ve always loved since joining the Firm in 2014. Pro bono work is important on many levels starting with pure altruism, we deliver free legal advice to some of the most vulnerable people in the community because we believe access to justice provides a solid foundation for a fair and equal society. The impact on the Firm is enormous, although it can be very hard to quantify, but positively reverberates through lateral and graduate recruitment, retention, training, skill development, collegiality, and provides opportunities for our lawyers to take on greater responsibilities at an earlier stage in their careers.

Have you seen a change in the value that law firms, and other businesses, place on the importance on integrating CSR into their activities? And how has Weil progressed/grown/developed within your employment with them?

Definitely. The London office has recently migrated from ‘CSR’ to ‘Corporate Responsibility & Inclusion’ (CR&I) and this transition is a natural evolution from the success of our community based activities (pro bono, volunteering, philanthropy) to a more rounded approach which is further ingrained into the business. More broadly, Weil is a member of the Collaborative Plan for Pro Bono in the UK a coalition of almost 40 law firms which aim to increase the volume of pro bono work directed to individuals who can’t afford it. As part of the requirement, we have to report publically as a collective group on our pro bono performance (individual firms figures are anonymous) and the number of full-time Pro bono and CSR staff in law firms has been on a continuous upward trend for a number of years.

What has been your proudest achievement at Weil?

My proudest moment is difficult to say. Some of the pro bono projects we work on are fantastic and make me feel very proud. From helping the Royal Society for Blind Children to developing an app to enable vision-impaired people to navigate transport networks independently to advising Micro Rainbow International to create a ‘Refugee Hostel’ for LGBTI refugees who have been granted asylum in the UK on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

What does a typical day look like for you and your colleagues?

This is going to sound cheesy but every day is different. I try to split my time equally between internal and external stakeholders. Internal can range from liaising with my colleagues in New York on international pro bono and volunteering initiatives, meeting with a partner to discuss an initiative, delivering a presentation to a practice area, speaking to new joiners as part of their induction or preparing proposal papers or internal communications to promote activities. A big part of my role is to bring the outside world into the Firm so I spend a lot of time meeting with a range of our CR&I partner organisations such as our 60 London pro bono clients, volunteering and school partners, our Charity Partner 2015/17 The Sick Children’s Trust or meeting with charities or individuals to stay ahead of the game in new developments and innovations.

What keeps you motivated to go to work every day?

I like to think of my role as one big never-ending project which comprises lots of large, medium and small projects. There is always something new and ways to improve and be better. Fundamentally, I think my main motivation lies in personal pride – wanting to do a good job for the Firm and for me and my family.

You were a volunteer during the London 2012 Olympics. This must have been an incredible experience. What one moment stands out for you above the rest and why?

It was a tremendous experience and one that I will never forget. I made lots of great friends during the Games so that’s a real personal legacy for me. If I had to highlight one specific memory then it would be watching the dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony the night before the real thing – that was pretty amazing. We got to see the biggest show on earth before anyone else had seen it. All of the performers were there and us volunteers had the stadium all to ourselves.

What has surprised you most about working with Weil?

There are lots of pre-conceptions about US firms in general but my time at Weil has been fantastic. What’s surprised me the most is that, despite working with people who are some of the best at what they do, everyone is so down to earth. I’m surrounded by great people who are smarter than me which is just how I like it as I’m always learning.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given, personal or professional, and who gave this to you?

The former Lord Mayor of the City of London, and truly wonderful, Fiona Woolf once said to me, “Rob, say yes and get lucky” and you can’t argue with that!