Pro Bono Benchmarking

In our surveys of large law firms, PBI has been delighted to discover that the performance benchmark associated with our Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® – 3 or 5 percent of total billable hours – is the goal now used by the majority of those firms. In other words, the Challenge benchmark is now the gold standard for pro bono performance among that important segment of the legal profession.

Recent developments show that the Challenge goals are now increasingly being viewed as the industry standard for the legal profession as a whole.  The goal was recently cited in a New York Times editorial on the crisis in access to justice.  In a very thoughtful address on the legal profession, Canada’s Governor General  proposed moving the “industry standard of pro bono work . . . from the current rate of les than 3 percent to 10 percent” and encouraged building these honorable hours “rigorously into the firm’s revenue structure.”  Increasingly, law schools and even bar associations are framing their articulated pro bono expectations in terms of percentages rather than hours per lawyer.

Why the broadened interest in and usage of the Challenge percentage goals?  We suspect that one reason is the extraordinary impact that the Challenge and its goals have had on participation in pro bono at major law firms.  The number of large firm lawyers participating in pro bono, the amount of pro bono undertaken, and the breadth and impact of that pro bono work has increased dramatically since the inception of the Challenge.  Also, unlike hourly goals, the Challenge is progressive and not regressive.  The more active (and thus more profitable) the lawyer or legal institution, the greater the expectation about pro bono service.

When a creative and committed group of large firm and in-house volunteers undertook the painstaking process of crafting the Challenge almost 20 years ago, they did not imagine the impact this benchmark would have on large firm practice, policies, and core values.  Nor did they even imagine that the Challenge would offer guidance and metrics for the profession more broadly.  We are honored and flattered that the Challenge goal has become an industry standard – and we hope one that accomplished the same transformative results for the legal profession as a whole that it has generated for large law firms.

What benchmark do you or your legal organization – law school, law firm, government office, in-house legal department – use to encourage pro bono work?   Leave a comment and tell us about it.