The 2015 TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono has backed findings from our inaugural Index last year that pro bono legal work is thriving globally. Results of this year’s Index again show that law firms all over the world are devoting extraordinary resources to support individuals in need and organisations with a social, humanitarian and environmental focus.
The amount of data collected for the 2015 Index was almost 35 percent larger than a year ago with almost 49,000 lawyers working at the 141 firms in 77 countries surveyed. These lawyers clocked up over 2 million hours of pro bono over the last year, meaning they performed on average 43.2 hours of pro bono each. This figure is slightly higher than last year’s average of 43.0 hours and is a positive trend in the sector. Increasing the data set may also mean this is a more accurate reflection of the global sector.
The indicators tracked by the Index – average number of hours of pro bono per fee-earning lawyer and percentage of lawyers doing 10 or more hours of pro bono – are not a comprehensive reflection of pro bono, let alone other forms of community or social initiatives. These indicators have been selected to provide a broad indication of engagement levels within firms, and, combined with other metrics, give an insight into what makes a successful pro bono practice. As with last year’s results, the findings show that a number of the structural factors within firms can have a very significant impact on the amount of pro bono undertaken.
The findings from this year’s Index showed extensive differences between international firms and those with offices in only one country and the trends were not always as expected. Our findings challenged the assumption that international firms tend to be better resourced and so likely to be able to devote more capacity to pro bono practices. Many of the most successful firms around the world in terms of pro bono are domestic firms and many international networks envy the resources these domestic firms have with regard to pro bono. In general, however, international firms and networks are larger and have economies of scale that enable both their financial and fee-earning resources to support a wider array of non-fee-earning projects than their domestic competitors. In many jurisdictions globally, international firms and networks are not able to operate so domestic firms are biased towards certain jurisdictions. The differences between these two groups may also be due to local context rather than available resources.
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The findings this year show there is a strong link between the number of fee-earners at an office and the amount of pro bono performed despite very different responses from international firms and their colleagues at firms with offices in only one country. Lawyers at offices with 100 or more fee-earners did 34.1 hours of pro bono on average, whilst those at medium-sized offices of 20-99 fee-earners performed 19.3 hours of pro bono each on average. Lawyers at offices with fewer than 20 fee-earners performed more pro bono than those at medium sized offices with an average of 22.3 hours over the year. For more analysis on how the size of firms impacts pro bono hours click here.
This year firms also gave more details about why they run pro bono practices, for whom, and which sectors they focus on. As with last year, most firms, or 85 percent, offer assistance to registered charities, while 63 percent assist individuals, and 59 percent work with social enterprises. Over half of the respondent firms, or 54 percent, focus on access to justice initiatives, while 40 percent work on projects relating to economic development and microfinance, and 40 percent on education and training matters. Nine in 10 firms, or 89 percent , said the ‘desire to support the community’ was a key reason to perform pro bono work, while 45.3 percent see pro bono as an important tool for training and skill development for their team. For a more detailed analysis on why firms do pro bono, the clients they support, and the focus of their work, please click here.
After feedback last year, the 2015 Index asked firms if they had a formal written pro bono policy to see what impact this had. The 2015 results found 63.8 percent of respondent firms have a formal policy and this had a significant impact on the average hours performed by fee-earners. Lawyers at firms with a pro bono policy performed 36.7 hours of pro bono on average, compared to 21.2 hours at those without a policy. The impact on the percentage of lawyers doing 10 or more hours is significantly less with 45.6 percent of lawyers at firms with a policy in place doing 10 or more hours of pro bono compared to 34.8 percent at firms without.
Appointing a pro bono coordinator in law firms had a less marked impact on the amount of pro bono done than some of the other indicators. The Index found 75.4 percent of firms have a designated pro bono coordinator – the most ubiquitous of the indicators tracked. Lawyers at firms with a coordinator performed 33.0 hours of pro bono on average compared to 28.3 hours at those without. This number was surprising as the difference in levels of engagement between firms with and without a coordinator in the 2014 Index was wider. This could be explained by the fact that a greater number of small firms responded to the Index this year. Many of those are small enough to not require a formal coordinator as the lawyers there can more easily allocate resources informally on pro bono projects as a team or on their own.
The presence of a pro bono committee has a particularly strong impact on pro bono engagement, according to this year’s findings. The Index found 47.1 percent of firms have a pro bono committee of some kind, and at those firms 46.5 percent of lawyers perform 10 or more hours of pro bono compared to 39.4 percent at firms without. Furthermore, lawyers at firms with pro bono committees do 38.9 hours of pro bono on average compared to 23.3 hours at firms without. Last year’s findings also showed this indicator was very important in having a robust pro bono programme. It is arguable that the presence of a pro bono committee demonstrates a firm’s commitment to pro bono as a range of resources throughout the firm are being devoted to shape a pro bono practice.
For the purpose of the Index, a pro bono policy, a pro bono coordinator or a pro bono committee is considered to be pro bono infrastructure. For more detailed analysis on how pro bono infrastructure affects hours, please click here.
Having a pro bono target in place is a powerful tool to encourage lawyers to engage more in pro bono. The Index found 33.3 percent of respondent firms require their lawyers to perform pro bono, although this requirement may be mandatory or aspirational. This year’s findings suggest such a requirement has a limited impact on the proportion of lawyers getting involved in pro bono but has a strong impact on the average number of pro bono hours undertaken. Lawyers at firms with a target in place performed on average 42.7 hours of pro bono compared to 29.3 hours.
Factoring pro bono work into appraisal processes has a significant impact on both the average number of pro bono hours performed and the percentage of lawyers performing 10 or more hours of pro bono. The majority of respondent firms, or 66.2 percent, factor engagement in pro bono into the appraisal process for fee-earners at their firms. Lawyers at firms where pro bono work was not taken into account during the appraisal process performed on average 23.3 hours of pro bono, compared to 35.9 hours at those that do. The impact on the percentage of lawyers performing 10 or more hours of pro bono was equally significant with 48.4 percent involved when pro bono was taken into account compared to 35.4 percent otherwise. Allowing lawyers to take credit for pro bono therefore seems to be an important factor in strengthening levels of pro bono engagement.
Taking pro bono into account when determining compensation for fee-earners also has a strong impact on the average number of pro bono hours undertaken, although less so in encouraging more lawyers to get involved in pro bono projects. Where lawyers are financially rewarded for pro bono hours, the average number of hours performed increases to 38.5 from 25.5. The impact was less significant when looking at the percentage of lawyers performing 10 or more hours of pro bono at 46.6 percent compared to 43.2 percent. For more analysis on targets and compensation please click here.