Analysis

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Introduction

The TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono is designed to be a hub for information about trends in the pro bono sector. It was created in 2014 to meet two needs:

  • to help law firms understand how to shape and develop the pro bono practices within their firms to have successful and high impact programmes; and
  • to provide key benchmarking data and transparency on pro bono engagement in different jurisdictions globally to help lawyers and firms better understand the context in which they work.

In the three years since the Index has been published, strong trends are emerging about the shape and structure of pro bono practices in different firms and attitudes to pro bono in different markets. Both the legal and social sectors are in transition at the present time with organisations in both communities looking for ways to strengthen their offerings while facing financial pressures on their sources of income.

It is apparent that a strong understanding of the state of pro bono globally is crucial to continue to foster its growth. Access to data and trends allows lawyers to better understand where the industry is going, to set benchmarks and to build up support for the sector.

The findings illustrate that in order for pro bono to thrive, pro bono must be embedded within the culture of the firm, and that this commitment can be realised through the establishment of infrastructure to support pro bono. By mapping engagement and the growth of pro bono geographically, the Index acts a unique tool to build robust and sustainable pro bono practices and to help firms understand how to get the greatest impact from their pro bono work.

For a PDF of the full findings of the TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono, please see here.

Executive Summary

The consistent message from the Index over the last three years is that the global legal pro bono sector is thriving. Lawyers and law firms from Ghana to Guatemala are devoting their time, energy and expertise to support those in need, to provide access to justice and uphold the rule of law.

The number of lawyers that constitute the data set for the Index continues to grow. This year the respondent firms represent over 64,500 lawyers working in 75 countries. These lawyers performed over 2.5 million hours of pro bono work in 2015, with lawyers on average undertaking a staggering 39.2 hours of pro bono. This is higher than the average working week in the United States, according to Fortune’s analysis of OECD figures.

Pro Bono And Firm Size

  • Lawyers at large firms performed an average of 35.1 hours of pro bono over the last 12 months
  • Lawyers at medium-sized firms performed an average of 27.7 hours of pro bono over the last 12 months
  • Lawyers at small firms performed an average of 41.7 hours of pro bono over the last 12 months.

No two law firms are completely alike and this was reflected in the responses to the Index, with some of the world’s largest firms providing information as well as local firms with just a handful of lawyers. Some respondents have a long and proud tradition of offering pro bono services to the local communities, whilst others are new to this space.

For further analysis of pro bono and firm size, please see here.

Pro Bono Clients And Focus Areas

Almost all the firms that responded to the Index said the main justification for offering pro bono support was a desire to support the community (96.9 percent) while 58 percent also indicated that training and skills development of their staff was a key influencing factor.

Access to justice continued to be the most popular thematic area with 68 percent of firms supporting organisations and initiatives in this sector. Over half of firms also supported economic development, microfinance and social finance initiatives (51.6 percent) while 50 percent worked on human rights and 46.1 percent supported education, training and employment initiatives.

In line with previous findings, the vast majority of firms (88.6 percent) offered pro bono support to registered charities and non-profits, whilst 74.2 percent provided pro bono assistance to social enterprises, and 72.7 percent provided pro bono assistance to individuals in need.

For further analysis of pro bono clients and focus areas, please see here.

Pro Bono Infrastructure

Close to two-thirds of respondents have a pro bono policy in place, and it has a significant impact on the amount of pro bono undertaken. At firms with a policy, lawyers performed 44.8 hours of pro bono, compared to 14.7 hours for lawyers at firms without a pro bono policy.

The presence of a pro bono coordinator also directly resulted in an increase in pro bono. The vast majority of firms indicated that they have a pro bono coordinator (85.1 percent) to manage and coordinate pro bono matters. Lawyers at firms with a coordinator averaged 38.7 hours of pro bono over the last 12 months compared to 17.4 hours at firms without a pro bono coordinator.

Although the majority of firms also have a pro bono committee (60.2 percent), this was not seen to drive an increase in the levels of pro bono undertaken. Lawyers at firms with committees undertook an average of 34.3 hours of pro bono compared to firms without a committee performing similarly with an average of 36.4 hours. Interestingly, the impact on the proportion of lawyers performing 10 or more hours was more significant. About 31.1 percent of lawyers at firms with a committee performed 10 or more hours of pro bono last year compared to 21.7 percent at firms without a committee. This suggests the impact of a committee is more profound on helping to embed a culture of pro bono within firms by encouraging more lawyers to get involved in pro bono matters, than it does to get more matters through the door.

For further analysis of pro bono infrastructure, please see here.

Incentivising And Rewarding Pro Bono

Taking pro bono into account for appraisals was found to be a powerful tool to encourage greater engagement in pro bono. Over three-quarters of firms factored pro bono into appraisal processes (77.2 percent) and it had a significant impact on pro bono hours. When pro bono was factored into appraisals, lawyers performed 40.2 hours of pro bono compared to 20.7 hours where it was not.

Taking pro bono into account when assessing compensation for lawyers also had a clear impact on engagement levels. We found 60.9 percent of firms factored pro bono into compensation processes, and at these firms lawyers performed an average of 39.3 hours of pro bono. In contrast, lawyers at firms where pro bono was not factored into compensation performed an average of 28.5 hours.

Over a third (34.3 percent) of firms had a pro bono target in place for their lawyers with 58.7 percent of these firms proposing aspirational targets instead of mandatory targets. The difference in the amount of pro bono performed was apparent between the two types of targets. Firms with mandatory targets recorded an average of 65.5 hours compared to 31.7 hours where the target was aspirational.

For further analysis of incentivising and rewarding pro bono, please see here.