The Law Firm Pro Bono Project recently published its Report on the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® which found that 129 firms collectively demonstrated increased totals in pro bono hours, average hours per attorney, average pro bono percentage, and attorney participation rates. In 2017, signatories reported performing 4,988,525 hours or pro bono work, the largest annual amount since the inception of the Challenge Report in 1995. The annual Report examines the pro bono activities of signatories to the Challenge which serves as a unique and inspirational standard for law firms. In a time when threats to the rule of the law, uncertainty, disruption, and outrage are prevailing sentiments, these statistics represent the notable and meaningful efforts by signatories to promote access to justice.
Meeting the Goal
In 2017, a majority of firms met or surpassed their challenge goals. Sixty-four percent of firms either performed the same amount or increased their pro bono hours from 2016 compared to 56 percent of firms who performed the same amount or increased hours in 2016. Thirty-one firms (24 percent) reported significant expansion (in excess of 20 percent from 2016) in 2017, demonstrating that major growth is feasible.
The Essence of Pro Bono
The Challenge asks firms to devote a majority of their pro bono time “to persons of limited means or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons limited means” (Principal 3). In 2017, 68 percent of all pro bono time was devoted to those of limited means and the organizations that serve them. This marked the fourth straight year in which the percentage of time devoted to those with limited means met or exceeded 65 percent.
Partners versus Associates
Challenge signatories acknowledge their institutional, firm-wide commitment to provide pro bono legal services. They agree that they “will use [their] best efforts to ensure that a majority of both partners and associates in the firm participate annually in pro bono activities.” Participation rates in 2017 slightly increased for both partners and associates: 68 percent of partners and 86 percent of associates participated in pro bono, with an overall attorney participation rate of 77%.
Does Size Matter?
Law Firm Pro Bono again analyzed pro bono statistics by firm size this year. Firms with headcounts of more than 1000 attorneys reported the highest pro bono percentage (4.65 percent). However, firms of all sizes reported an increased pro bono percentage on average over the previous year. Pro bono hours per attorney and attorney participation rates by firm size was also analyzed. Firms with headcounts of more than 1000 attorneys also reported the highest average pro bono hours per attorney by firm size and attorney participation rates by firm. It is important to note that firms in all size categories reported statistically similar data.
We are thankful to all signatories, for their commitment and support of the Challenge. To learn more about the state of law firm pro bono, check out the complete Challenge Report, including analysis of the data, detailed graphs, and more. If your firm of 50 or more lawyers would like to join the Challenge and become visible pro bono leaders, please contact Law Firm Pro Bono Project Assistant Elysse DeRita.