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In Conversation with Raphaella Gabrasadig


Recipient of the prestigious LawWorks Junior Lawyers Division Pro Bono Award, our Private Equity & Financial Sponsors Associate Raphaella Gabrasadig regards pro bono as a vitally important and an essential part of her work. In this interview, she discusses why using legal skills to give back to the community is a privilege and a key part of our social responsibility. 

Congratulations on winning the 'Junior Lawyers Division Pro Bono Award' at the LawWorks Annual Pro Bono Awards 2020. This prestigious award recognises your commitment to and involvement in a range of pro bono activities. Is there one specific 2020 project which you would single out?

The most exciting project I had the opportunity to work on in 2020 was the Chancery Lane Project (CLP). CLP is a collaborative of lawyers working together to develop new contract and laws with a focus on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors, which are then pulled together in a Contract Playbook. Travers Smith partner, George Weavil, senior associate Katie McGarry and I worked together to draft a management equity ratchet that increases the amount of equity held by management shareholders in an investee company if the business has achieved appropriate ESG-related targets during the life of the investment, and not just financial targets.

The drafting, which we named 'Bella's Clause', was published in the second edition of the CLP Contract Playbook. It was great to be part of a team suggesting legal solutions and the firm has gone on to work with other advisers on a number of drafting projects, such as environmental warranties for share purchase agreements. The Contract Playbook has now been downloaded over 20,000 times and in 75 countries, so we hope these clauses will begin to get clients thinking about how to embed ESG factors into their decision making.

You have been part of the Travers Smith team supporting Refugees at Home from the very outset. Can you tell us more about that project and your reasons for participating in it?

Refugees at Home (R@H) is a charity that connects those with a spare room with refugees and asylum seekers in need of somewhere to stay. The group of people who had the initial idea for this project were introduced to the firm by Charlotte Feld, a consultant in the Pensions team, back in 2015. We committed to helping them and a team headed by partner and Head of Pensions Daniel Gerring, together with Charlotte and associate Alex Economides immediately set to work. I was organising trips with my parish to the Jungle in Calais around the same time so when I found out about R@H, I leapt at the opportunity to be involved.

At the start, the firm (with pro bono help from its brand consultants) helped the charity come up with its name and logo. We advised on R@H's governance, helped set them up as a legal entity, researched the interaction of R@H's plans with immigration laws, housing benefits, and worked on the various guides and FAQs available on its website. This was my first real experience of pro bono work as a trainee and it was great to see the firm get behind this project wholeheartedly - not only providing legal advice, but also a wide range of other support, including hosting the annual R@H birthday party and having both Daniel Gerring, and our Chief Technology Officer, Olly Bethell, serving on the Board of Trustees.

My parents came to the UK from Sudan with three children, two bags and zero connections. We were blessed to meet strangers who supported us, so it is a real privilege to be part of a team helping R@H support asylum seekers and refugees. It has also been great to see people in the firm volunteer as hosts, welcoming R@H guests into their homes. To date R@H has provided nearly 180,000 nights of free accommodation to people in need.

What other pro bono work is close to your heart and why?

In 2019, I became a trustee of the Wonder Foundation in memory of my older sister, Raheal, who was involved in setting it up eight years ago. Wonder is a charity that partners with local projects around the world to develop communities through education. As an umbrella organisation Wonder helps to improve the efficiency of projects, provides fundraising and works at a policy level to campaign for better access to education.

Recently we have had a focus on tackling the 'digital gender divide' which has only been amplified by the pandemic, with women being less likely than men to have access to technology and data to continue teaching and learning. With Wonder's support our partners from Brixton to the Philippines and Nigeria have provided laptops, mobile data and emergency food parcels to young women. The economic impact of educating women and girls is statistically undeniable, but I think Wonder's focus on mentoring, supporting families and finding dignified work is what makes the projects truly empowering for women.

How much time do you dedicate to pro bono work and how much support do you get from the firm to do so?

I am not sure I can quantify how much time I spend on pro bono or other charity work, but I am lucky to have found so many interesting projects to be involved in. The Private Equity & Financial Sponsors (PEFS) team has a pro bono committee that I sit on alongside PEFS partners, George Weavil and Emma Havas, and Director of Pro Bono, Sam Cottman. It is great to see our Pro Bono Practice grow so much over the past year with more people becoming involved in projects.

While there is much that can come from more usual avenues, such as pro bono brokerages or legal advice clinics, I think the firm is particularly supportive of pro bono opportunities that stem more naturally from people's interests and connections - Refugees at Home and, more recently, Foundervine, a social enterprise which another PEFS Associate, James Ravden, brought to the firm, are perfect examples of this.

Why is charity and pro bono work important for law firms and what is your message to other lawyers about it?

I think charity and pro bono work is important for everyone, not just law firms!

It is a different way to develop skills doing something you enjoy, and it helps add a bit of perspective at work. More importantly, finding ways to support and serve others, however big or small, is part of our common duty to society.

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