The 2020 Index of Pro Bono illustrates a story of global growth and commitment to pro bono legal assistance during one of the most challenging times in recent history. Across the globe, law firms donated nearly 4 million hours of free legal support to charities, non-profits, social enterprises and individuals in need, helping them survive and drive much-needed social and environmental change.
Our findings illustrate that for pro bono to thrive, pro bono must be embedded within the culture of law firms, no matter their size. This commitment can be realized through the establishment of infrastructure to support pro bono, which, alongside incentivation through compensation or targets, can generally increase the amount of pro bono performed by lawyers.
As in prior years, an overwhelming majority of lawyers (96%) state that they perform pro bono in order to give back to their community. This has certainly been TrustLaw’s experience working with thousands of lawyers across the globe and over the last decade, who have been continuously generous with their skills, expertise and resources. In 2020, this motivation was especially palpable in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and protests for racial equality, as lawyers volunteered in droves to support the local communities that were hardest hit to build back stronger, more inclusive and healthier.
One of the greatest areas of growth we have seen in the 2020 Index of Pro Bono is by lawyers doing more work on environmental and climate change issues. Environment and Climate Change was selected as a focus area by 32 percent of firms, a significant increase from the 2016 Index (20 percent). It is likely that this growth reflects law firms’ efforts to address the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change across the globe and to support efforts towards cleaner energy and more sustainable development.
In terms of geographic expansion, in 2020 we saw high levels of pro bono hours beyond the traditionally leading pro bono markets – US, UK and Australia. The Americas, for example, saw firms nearly double the average amount of pro bono performed –in 2016 firms in the Americas performed an average of 11.7 hours of pro bono, while in 2020 the average increased to 20.2, suggesting a growing interest and participation in pro bono. Submissions from firms in Africa and the Middle East nearly tripled, and Nigeria stood out with one of the highest global averages of pro bono hours per fee earner (75.44), indicating a strong culture of pro bono in Africa’s largest nation. Europe’s pro bono culture continues to thrive, boosted by the region’s inaugural launch of the European Pro Bono Week in 2019, organised in by both law firms and non-profits. In the Asia-Pacific region, some countries continued to further embed pro bono infrastructure into their national legal practice systems while others saw lawyers respond in large numbers to human rights crises.
The 2020 Index of Pro Bono builds on prior versions and serves as a foundation for future understanding of the evolution of the pro bono sector. By mapping engagement and the growth of pro bono across the world, the Index is a unique tool to build robust and sustainable pro bono practices and to help firms understand how to achieve the greatest impact from their pro bono work. I look forward to our 2022 Index, to assess new trends and to ponder on the lessons learned. Our hope is that as the years progress we will have a strong body of evidence to showcase this growing field and further promote excellence in the practice of pro bono globally.
Our many thanks to all the firms big and small, from Argentina to Zimbabwe that kindly took the time to submit the data without which the Index would not exist. A special thanks to our partner firms, Allen & Overy, Ashurst, DLA Piper, Freshfields and Hogan Lovells, for generously sponsoring the 2020 Index of Pro Bono and enabling us to continue making it bigger and better in future years to grow awareness of pro bono trends, set benchmarks and build support for the sector. We look forward to all your continuing support and input as we strive to create a society where pro bono legal assistance can blossom and help drive the social and environmental change that is so critically needed across the globe.
The 2020 Index of Pro Bono, the first following a four-year hiatus, was worth the wait as it is the largest we have ever carried out. Once again, the trends indicate that legal pro bono – the provision of services by a legal professional for free – is growing across a majority of countries and regions. Lawyers continue to devote time, effort, skills and expertise to support people and organisations in need by ensuring that the law is accessible and justice can be attained.
In 2020 the respondent firms represent over 150,000 lawyers working in 91 countries. These lawyers performed over 3.9 million hours of pro bono work in their self-selected 12-month reporting period, with lawyers engaging in 26.3 hours of pro bono on average.
Law firms that engage in pro bono vary widely in size, 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 local communities, while others are new to this space.
For further analysis of pro bono and firm size, please see here.
Almost every respondent firm indicated that the main justification for offering pro bono support was a desire to support the community (96 percent), while 54 percent indicated that training and skills development of their staff was another key factor driving their engagement in pro bono.
Access to justice continued to be the most popular thematic area with 65 percent of firms supporting organisations, causes and initiatives related to this focus area. A large number of firms also equally supported economic development, microfinance and social finance along with human rights initiatives (both 43 percent) and 40 percent supported both education, training and employment and immigration, refugee and asylum initiatives.
In line with previous findings of the Index, the vast majority of firms (89 percent) offered pro bono support to registered charities and non-profits, while 71 percent provided pro bono assistance to social enterprises, and 67 percent provided pro bono assistance to individuals in need.
For further analysis of pro bono clients and focus areas, please see here.
The findings show that doing something to facilitate pro bono was more important than trying to do everything. A majority of respondent law firms (87 percent) reported that as part of their infrastructure to support pro bono they have at least one of the following: a pro bono policy, pro bono committee, or pro bono coordinator. At firms with a pro bono policy, lawyers performed 48.7 hours of pro bono, compared to 21.6 hours for lawyers at firms without a pro bono policy.
The presence of a pro bono coordinator did not seem to have a direct positive association with the amount of pro bono performed. Though a majority of firms indicated that they have a pro bono coordinator (77 percent) to manage and coordinate pro bono matters, lawyers at firms with a coordinator averaged 29.6 hours of pro bono over the self-selected 12-month reporting period compared to 79.6 hours at firms without a pro bono coordinator. We do not conclude that pro bono coordinators have a negative impact on the overall amount of pro bono in firms as this trend is mostly credited to Small Firms that do not have a dedicated a pro bono coordinator but perform a high number of pro bono hours.
A majority of firms also reported having a pro bono committee (53 percent), which may play a key role in driving an increase in the levels of pro bono undertaken. Lawyers at firms with committees undertook an average of 50.3 hours of pro bono compared to firms without a committee, which performed an average of 26.5 hours. Firms with pro bono committees also reported more lawyers performing 10 or more hours pro bono.
For further analysis of pro bono infrastructure, please see here.
Taking pro bono into account in fee earner performance appraisals can be a tool to encourage engagement in pro bono. Over two-thirds of firms factored pro bono into appraisal processes (69 percent) When pro bono was factored into appraisals, lawyers performed 46.7 hours of pro bono compared to 20.6 hours where it was not. However, the effect was not reproduced by lawyers with partner status at respondent firms. Partners for whom pro bono was considered during the appraisal process performed 38.4 hours of pro bono compared to 41.2 hours where it was not.
Linking pro bono to compensation for lawyers does not appear to be associated with higher engagement levels. We found 46 percent of firms factored pro bono into compensation processes, yet firms that did not factor pro bono into compensation performed more hours of pro bono (49.7 hours) as compared to law firms that did (29.2 hours).
A majority of firms (60 percent) had a pro bono target in place for their lawyers. A difference in the amount of pro bono performed was apparent between the two types of targets: mandatory and aspirational. Firms with mandatory targets recorded an average of 60.4 hours compared to 32.9 hours where the target was aspirational.
For further analysis of incentivising and rewarding pro bono, please see here.