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Andrew, Legal, US

GSK attorney Andrew has been leading the company’s US-based Legal department’s ‘pro bono’ program since founding it in 2005. As well as the value he adds to various organizations and individuals, he also believes it’s helped him grow professionally.

In many parts of the world, lawyers have a professional responsibility to provide free or heavily discounted legal advice and representation to individuals, charities and community groups who couldn’t otherwise afford it. This commitment to so-called ‘pro bono’ public interest service is something that’s actually set out in our rules of professional conduct.

For me, though, and for most of my colleagues, this isn’t the driver of our pro bono efforts.

We don’t do it because we have to, we do it because we want to. It’s the right thing to do.

My personal story started when I was a kid. My parents instilled a strong community spirit in me from an early age, and this was reinforced through my schooling and college education. Later, after I’d qualified and clerked for a federal judge in Philadelphia for two years, I started work at an external law firm. I looked up to a partner there who did a lot of pro bono work and I vowed that I would do the same.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep that promise at GSK. I first came into contact with the company when representing it in litigation. That led to a secondment to GSK Legal in 2004, to cover a maternity leave, and when an internal promotion created an opening in the team, I made the move permanent.

Almost straight away, I joined forces with a few colleagues to launch a pro bono program. We drafted a policy, identified the first few projects to help, and the initiative has grown ever since. We’re representing individuals and organizations working in areas such as homelessness, children’s rights and immigration. We’re giving advice to non-profits and small businesses that service low-income communities. We’ve even helped cancer patients draft legal documents.

The legal pro bono program in 2017

  • 24

    volunteers from the legal department

  • 482

    hours of service

  • $176,000

    worth of service

  • 73

    pro bono clients

It’s incredibly rewarding when you’re able to keep someone in their home or help someone who’s already homeless get access to the benefits that make sure they have food and shelter. It’s really making a difference to people’s lives.

I’ve always believed in GSK’s commitment to corporate social responsibility. And I’m always impressed when I hear about the company’s efforts to give disadvantaged patients access to medicines, or to develop the communities where we live and work. Thanks to our specialized training, the law department can help further those goals.

Andrew volunteering
Andrew volunteering at a pro bono clinic in Philadelphia, US focusing on clients facing challenges with their ability to stay in their homes.

The most difficult part of the journey is always taking the first step to say “yes”, and then actually getting involved. Practicing law for a single pharmaceutical company may, at the outset, seem like a specific skill set that might not translate easily to addressing the needs of a pro bono client. But I was pleasantly surprised to find how much support, resources, training and mentoring are available to GSK lawyers. And once you realize that you have the expertise to help people who wouldn’t otherwise have representation, the motivation to do more sets in.

The organizations that we work with, as well as the clients they put us in touch with, are obviously grateful for their help. They fully understand and appreciate the value we add. Many of these organizations are already receiving GSK IMPACT Awards, which provide funding and training and development for charities doing excellent work to improve people's health and well-being. What we do is therefore a natural extension of the company’s support.

But it’s a mutually beneficial process. I know that my pro bono work has helped me grow professionally in terms of tackling new challenges and further developing my client relationship skills. It helps us bond as a department too. And the company gains by having rounded people who understand inclusion and diversity and are capable of dealing with a wider range of issues.

I know that my pro bono work has helped me grow professionally in terms of tackling new challenges and further developing my client relationship skills.

So, for me, volunteering is an activity in which everyone wins. It’s something I will continue doing as long as I can. And I would strongly urge everyone else to find a project they believe in, grab a few colleagues to join them, take the leap and get involved.