A First: Law Firm Pro Bono Annual Hours Exceed Five Million

Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project has issued its 2018 Report on the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Initiative. Firms reported performing a total of 5,070,533 hours of pro bono work in 2018 – an increase over 2017. This is the first time signatories have collectively exceeded the 5 million hours mark since the implementation of the Challenge in 1995.

The Challenge Report examines the pro bono performance of firms that are signatories to PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge initiative during the 2018 calendar year. Signatories have committed to contribute 3 or 5 percent of their annual billable hours (or, at a few firms, 60 or 100 hours per attorney) to pro bono activities as defined by the Challenge, and report their performance to PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project each year.

Law firm pro bono is “stable,” which is good news. There are several highlights to be celebrated:

  • The number of hours reported are increasing, which indicates not only sustainability, but that pro bono has permeated as a core value. One hundred twenty-eight firms reported in 2018, performing an aggregated total of 5,070,533 hours of pro bono work, approximately 82,000 hours more than in 2017, when 129 firms reported an aggregated total of 4,988,525 hours of pro bono work.
  • When the Challenge was launched in 1993 and implemented in 1995, one fundamental goal was to encourage more than half of a firm’s attorneys to participate in pro bono, an ambitious objective at that time. In 2018, the combined attorney participation rate for partners and associates was 76.55%.
  • In 2018, the total amount of charitable giving to legal services organizations increased 15 percent over 2017.  Firm donations increased to $25.9 million, up from $22.5 million from last year.
  • Sixty-eight percent of all pro bono time was devoted to those of limited means and organizations serving them. Collectively, signatories are meeting the Challenge commitment to devote a “majority” of their pro bono time to people of limited means.

Law Firm Pro Bono Project Director Reena Glazer said, “Behind every data point is a story. Eclipsing the 5 million hours mark is a significant accomplishment. Let’s build on the successes documented in this year’s Challenge Report and continue to devote meaningful time, energy, and resources to providing pro bono services and access to justice for all.”

Next year is the 25th anniversary of the implementation of the Challenge. A look back provides additional perspective: the first data collection from 1995 yielded information from 135 Challenge signatories, who reported 1.6 million pro bono hours and an average of 53.3 pro bono hours per attorney. In 2018, 128 Challenge signatories reported 5 million pro bono hours and an average of 64.3 pro bono hours per attorney. We’ve come a long way! Many thanks to all of our signatories who are supporting broad participation in pro bono at their firms and making meaningful efforts to promote access to justice for all.

Fast Facts

Challenge goals that were met or exceeded in 2018:

  • The 5 million hours of pro bono work represents an all-time high, eclipsing previous bests of 4.9 million in 2009 and 2017.
  • The percentage of partners engaging in pro bono was 67.4 percent and participation of associates was 85.1 percent. Combined attorney participation was 76.5 percent overall.
  • Pro bono hours as a percentage of total paying client billable hours remained strong, at 3.8 percent in 2018.

Read the full report, or the summary report.

Interested in your firm becoming a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge signatory?  Find out how.

Have a question about “what counts” as pro bono legal services under the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Statement of Principles and Challenge Commentary? We have a great resource for you!