Law Firms Respond to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: How the Legal Industry & the Public Can Help
On February 21, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered ground troops into the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. Invading under the guise of establishing independence for the region on February 24, Russia started bombing key points of interest around the country, including the capital city of Kyiv. At the time of writing, the skirmishes remain ongoing, with Russia expanding its invasion force as the days go on.
The ramifications of Russia’s war are widespread. In Ukraine, infrastructural damage is considerable, an estimated 2 million civilians are evacuating or have been driven from their homes. The death toll remains uncertain at this time, but the Ukrainian health ministry estimates that hundreds of citizens have been killed as a result of the violence. Globally, financial markets are in a state of rapid flux, seeing huge rises in inflation, a strained supply chain and plummeting stock prices.
Law firms in the United States and abroad have responded to the conflict by offering pro bono services in anticipation of resultant legal complications and organized means by which money can be donated to Ukrainian humanitarian efforts.
How Have Law Firms Responded to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine?
In some instances, firms have also closed offices in Ukraine to protect workers, and severed ties with Russian businesses. Law firms that have closed offices in Ukraine include Dentons, CMS and Baker McKenzie, which have closed offices in Kyiv.
“Dentons has established a taskforce to monitor and manage the crisis situation, with a primary focus on protecting our people,” Tomasz Dąbrowski, CEO of Dentons Europe, told the National Law Review. “We are in regular contact with our team in Kyiv and are providing our colleagues and their families with any possible assistance, including transport, relocation and accommodation assistance in the neighboring countries. Furthermore, we have seen a wave of kindness and generosity from our people across Europe, who have volunteered to provide accommodation in their homes for Ukrainian colleagues. Furthermore, in addition to the financial support our Firm is providing to our Ukrainian colleagues, we have also received financial donations from around the world to help them resettle.”
Many law firms have announced they are closing offices in Russia, including Squire Patton Boggs, Latham & Watkins Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Morgan Lewis & Bockius, among others. Norton Rose Fulbright announced March 7 that they are winding down their operations in Russia and will be closing their Moscow office as soon as they can, calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “increasingly brutal.”
“The wellbeing of our staff in the region is a priority. We thank our 50 colleagues in Moscow for their loyal service and will support them through this transition.”
Norton Rose Fulbright said they “stand unequivocally with the people of Ukraine,” and are taking steps to respond to the invasion.
“Some immediate actions are possible and we are taking them. We are not accepting any further instructions from businesses, entities or individuals connected with the current Russian regime, irrespective of whether they are sanctioned or not. In addition, we continue to review exiting from existing work for them where our professional obligations as lawyers allow. Where we cannot exit from current matters, we will donate the profits from that work to appropriate humanitarian and charitable causes,” the statement read. “We are working with our charitable partners in every region to raise funds to help the people of Ukraine, as well as providing pro bono support to those Ukrainians and others who are being forced to relocate.”
Law firms have also stepped forward to offer pro bono assistance to those affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Law Firms Offering Pro Bono Assistance to Ukraine
Akin Gump Partner and Pro Bono Practice leader Steven Schulman explained how the legal industry is collaborating and working to provide assistance:
“So what we often do in these crises, we will self organize, [and] say who's a point person who knows what's going on, and then we will share information so that again, we're lightening the load on the legal aid organizations.”
Another law firm offering assistance to Ukraine is Covington & Burling, which the country hired to help pursue its claim against Russia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Specifically, Ukraine asked the court to order Russia to halt its invasion. Covington filed a claim on behalf of Ukraine to the ICJ.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are providing emergency aid in Ukraine, as well as in neighboring countries, such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania to help people displaced by the war as they come across the border, Mr.Dąbrowski said. These organizations are providing food, water, hygiene supplies and other necessities, and urgent psychological counseling. Specific NGOs on the ground in Ukraine include Mercy Corps, Fight for Right, Project HOPE, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and Fundacja Ocalenie, among others.
However, NGOs need cash donations in order to keep providing aid. Mr.Dąbrowski detailed what pro bono work Dentons is doing, and how the firm is supporting NGOs:
“Our Positive Impact team is in touch with numerous NGOs and lawyers from our firm to identify opportunities for pro bono legal advice, mainly in the countries which share a border with Ukraine. We are already working with NGOs in Poland and Hungary which are helping Ukrainian refugees displaced by the war. We are assisting with issues related to employment law, contracts, establishment of charitable foundations, etc… We are also in discussions with an international relief agency which is looking to set up operations within Ukraine.
While men between the ages of 18 and 60 are currently prohibited from leaving Ukraine, as of March 10, 2022, the conflict has created one of the largest refugee crises within the last few decades.
“We have activated our registered charitable foundation to collect donations from our people around the world to support Ukrainian families – and particularly children – displaced by the war, including some of our own people from Kyiv. So far, our colleagues from around the world have donated or pledged close to €300,000,” Mr.Dąbrowski said. “We have already distributed €60,000 of that to eight NGOs in Poland, Hungary and Romania, which are providing emergency aid, food and water, hygiene supplies, transportation, medical and psychological care, shelter and schooling to Ukrainian civilians fleeing from the war”
Concerns with immigration and refugee asylum is the next expected complication. In the short-term, the Department of Homeland Security is prioritizing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations for those already in the U.S.
For the public, there are a number of actions to take to support Ukrainians. However, those wishing to help should make sure to do their research before making any donations in order to ensure the funds end up in the right hands.
How Can Members of the Public Help Ukraine?
Possible scam organizations and outreach programs are common during international crises, so it’s important to know the signs of fraudulent charities. Some best practices for providing support include:
Giving directly to an organization rather than through shared donation links on social media
Being wary of crowdfunding efforts
Some examples of charitable organizations focused on Ukraine relief include:
Informational resources for those affected are provided below:
Law firms and the public alike have stepped up to offer assistance and financial help to those most affected by the Russian invasion. Law firms cutting ties with Russian businesses and closing offices in Russia shows that the legal industry is standing behind Ukraine as the conflict continues to escalate.
In upcoming coverage, the National Law Review will be writing about how law firms are helping clients handle Russian sanctions, as well as the immigration implications of refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine.
*The quotes and input of interviewees reflect the latest information on the Russian invasion of Ukraine as of March 7, 2022. Readers can find the latest legal news from around the world on The National Law Review’s Global Law page.*
Rachel Popa and Jessica Scheck also contributed to this article.