Pro Bono Weathers Rough Economy

As promised, PBI‘s Law Firm Pro Bono Project released its annual report of pro bono participation at large law firms today.  The Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® report examines the 2010 pro bono activities of firms that have signed on to the Challenge.  In 2010, attorneys from 138 firms completed more than 4.45 million hours of pro bono service, the third highest year on record!

The executive summary notes:

Overall Challenge Performance — Reporting firms completed a total of 4,451,009 hours of pro bono work, the third highest year in the history of the Challenge.

Service to Persons of Limited Means — Challenge firms increased their service to persons of limited means this year, donating 2,840,382 hours or 64%, an increase of 3% over the previous year.

Participation — Reduced headcounts at firms impacted the number of attorneys participating in pro bono, down slightly from 2009.

Litigation/Non-Litigation Hours — Nearly 1.5 million hours were spent on litigation-related matters for the poor, while 595,415 hours were spent on non-litigation matters.

Regional Analysis — Pro bono service is broken down by regions in the country, with firms in the Northeast (with the most firms – over 44 – reporting) having the highest percentage of pro bono hours, 4%.

Challenge Signatory firms Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP and Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP both had strong years for pro bono in 2010.  The PBEye was pleased to hear from the leadership at each firm. 

“The economic downturn has certainly impacted firms across the country, but times are even tougher for our pro bono clients,” said Steven H. Davis, chairman of Dewey & LeBoeuf. “Pro bono is a valuable resource to the attorneys at our firm. Since our lawyers are even busier, we must look for new and creative ways to identify meaningful, rewarding, and challenging pro bono matters that will, in turn, help our attorneys – from junior associates to seasoned partners – develop professionally.”

“We have increased our focus on pro bono, despite the changes and administrative challenges we’ve faced due to the recession,” Greg Nitzkowski, managing partner of Paul Hastings noted. “Our firm has worked hard to send the message to all of our attorneys that pro bono is a core value of this firm in good times and in bad.”

PBI President and CEO Esther F. Lardent weighed in on the report as well, “What we are seeing is that pro bono, while institutionalized in firms, is facing challenges due to decreased headcounts and heavier workloads.  This year is still the third highest ever, so while troubling, the bottom has not dropped out and we are cautiously optimistic that pro bono will continue to be a very high priority at firms.”

You can read the complete report here and the full press release here.  For more from Esther on what this report means for large law firms, check out the video below.