PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project is currently updating What Counts? A Compilation of Questions and Answers, a guide of frequently asked questions and explanations of “what counts” as pro bono legal services for the purpose of the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®. Since its original publication in 2003 and its revision in 2008, we have continued to receive a steady flow of new inquiries. We will include answers to those questions in the upcoming version of What Counts to further fine-tune our guidance regarding the definition of pro bono legal services in a principled, clear, and consistent fashion.
We recently discussed whether time spent training for a pro bono case counts for the purposes of the Challenge. But what about if work on a pro bono matter eventually results in an award of attorneys’ fees? Here is our answer:
Under Principle 7, “the term ‘pro bono’ refers to activities of the firm undertaken normally without expectation of fee and not in the course of ordinary commercial practice. . . .” If the firm originally accepted the matter in question on a pro bono basis, then an award of attorneys’ fees will not change it from being a pro bono matter. Time spent on the pro bono matter should be counted as the firm would count any pro bono matter in which the award of attorneys’ fees was not present. However, accepting a matter on a contingency fee basis (even where the chance of recovery is remote) does not make it a pro bono matter under the Challenge. Time expended on contingency cases cannot be counted for purposes of the Challenge.
The Challenge definition is designed to encourage law firms to seek awards of attorneys’ fees in appropriate pro bono cases. Seeking attorneys’ fees, as well as damages or equitable relief, on behalf of pro bono clients increases the disincentives and deterrence benefits of these cases by making defendants who have acted unlawfully pay the full costs associated with their behavior. Accordingly, firms are encouraged to seek attorneys’ fees and to request compensation at the usual and customary billing rates.
Please contact us for guidance if you have any questions about “what counts.” If your firm of 50 or more lawyers would like to join the Challenge, please contact Law Firm Pro Bono Project Assistant Eva Richardson. All inquiries about the Challenge are welcome, and if you have topics that you want to see in the new version of What Counts, please let us know!