Index of Pro Bono 2016


I am pleased to share with you the results of the third TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global benchmark mapping the scale and trends of the pro bono legal sector internationally.

Compiled with data collected from over 130 law firms – both large and small – and representing 64,500 lawyers in 75 countries, the Index provides a snapshot of the resources mobilised by the industry in support of social causes, while also monitoring the growth of the sector globally.

Pro bono is thriving. Over the last 12 months, respondents donated over 2.5 million hours of free legal support. On average lawyers invested about one week (39.2 hours) per year of their time assisting charities, non-profits, social enterprises and individuals in need, free of charge. Small law firms performed the highest number pro bono hours, averaging 41.7 hours per lawyer each year.

High levels of pro bono hours were not just coming from lawyers in the UK, US and Australia, which are traditionally known as the leading pro bono markets; in fact, 2015 saw a spike of pro bono hours for firms in South Africa and China, which reported higher average hours than any other countries, with the exception of the US.

In particular, China’s lawyers clocked an astonishing 37 hours of pro bono work on average annually – similar to what’s seen in well established markets such as Australia, and even above the hours recorded in England and Wales. China is definitely the country to watch. Its pro bono growth is remarkable: +211% since the TrustLaw Index began in 2014. The result is particularly impressive given the latest introduction of very strict laws affecting NGOs. Only 10 years ago, pro bono in China was a niche practice, but today the country has overtaken the amount of hours in England and other countries with solid pro bono traditions.

Overall, Asia saw an unprecedented increase of 40 percent year-on-year in pro bono hours performed since 2014.

Our Index indicates how lawyers have consistently proven themselves to be incredibly generous with their skills, expertise and resources. It also shows the adaptability of the pro bono sector and the capacity to spot new needs and act accordingly.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the report is in fact to note how lawyers responded to the international refugee crisis by increasing pro bono support globally: our survey reports that ‘Immigration, Refugees and Asylum’ was selected as a key focus area for pro bono work by 41.4 percent of firms – a substantial increase compared to the previous two years (24 percent and 28 percent respectively).

The ongoing refugee crisis has clearly posed and continues to pose unprecedented challenges for Europe and the rest of the world and  lawyers are stepping up to provide life-changing support. This is undoubtedly a beautiful story of solidarity in action.

The core mission of TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono service, is to spread the practice of pro bono worldwide to drive social change. Today, TrustLaw operates in over 170 countries, bringing together over 580 top law firms and in-house counsel teams with 2,600 of the best social impact organisations around the world.

In less than six years, TrustLaw has connected more than 2,300 legal teams with high impact NGOs and social entrepreneurs. TrustLaw has supported a targeted response to the migrant crisis with IRC, Latham & Watkins and a number of other organisations to provide detailed analysis of complicated legal frameworks relating to border control and refugee rights; partnered Equality Illinois with Kirkland & Ellis to work towards banning gay conversion therapy in Illinois; and created a user’s guide to crowdfunding in the UK with the Young Foundation and Mishcon de Reya, amongst other projects this year.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation has always been a champion for the development of the pro bono sector. Along with the Index, the Foundation has generated a range of guides and resources to help lawyers provide tailored legal advice to social sector organisations and to help non-profits and social enterprises navigate complicated legal frameworks, as well as creating training courses designed to help lawyers better understand how to support the social sector. We see these initiatives as being key to ensuring that more lawyers are better equipped to support the social economy, and in this way will be better able and hopefully even more willing to lend their expertise to pro bono clients.

In just three years, the TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono has become a very authoritative tool because it allows us to better understand where the industry is going, to set benchmarks, and to build up support for the pro bono sector. By mapping the growth of pro bono geographically and in terms of engagement levels, the Index offers firms – large and small - a unique tool to help build robust and sustainable pro bono practices and to understand how to get the greatest impact from their pro bono work.


What Data Was Collected

The Index highlights a number of recurring factors that are key to developing a successful pro bono practice and that ‘success’ is based on one simple metric: levels of pro bono engagement. Given the vast cultural and contextual differences globally, the Index uses two primary indicators to represent pro bono engagement:

• average number of hours of pro bono per fee-earning lawyer over a 12 month period

• percentage of lawyers at a firm performing 10 plus hours of pro bono over 12 months.

These indicators have been selected to provide a broad representation of engagement levels by lawyers and within firms, and, combined with other metrics, can be seen to give an insight into what contributes to a successful pro bono practice.

In addition to these indicators, firms were invited to share qualitative information about their:

• Pro bono practice: pro bono policies, eligibility for pro bono, if they have a pro bono coordinator or committee, if partners oversee pro bono activities

• Pro bono focus areas: if firms prefer to work with certain types of pro bono clients, and on certain types of pro bono matters

• Incentivizing and rewarding pro bono: pro bono targets, and if pro bono is factored into performance appraisals and considered for compensation.

To see a list of the questions that comprised the Index, please see here.

Who Provided Data

Law firms of all different shapes and sizes and based all over the world were asked to provide information on how they organise their pro bono practice and how much pro bono work they perform in the countries or jurisdictions in which they operate. 134 firms in 75 jurisdictions provided information about how they structure their practice and 129 of those submitted detailed data about how much pro bono their lawyers are undertaking.

The wide range of respondents means the data offers a genuine and unique snapshot of the legal profession. To ensure the broad data set can be analysed to produce relevant findings, the Index uses a definition of pro bono that can be applied globally. The definition considers the variations in the practice of pro bono globally and presents a unified and comparable approach to pro bono.

How The Data Was Analysed

The Index data was analysed using two methods: quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative Analysis

The quantitative analysis considers the average number of hours of Qualifying Pro Bono done per Qualifying Fee Earner; and the percentage of Qualifying Fee Earners doing 10 hours or more of Qualifying Pro Bono in a 12 month period. The data is presented in country or regional indices, detailing individual firm data on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis.

No matter where firms are located and irrespective of their size and resources, lawyers face similar challenges in trying to grow and strengthen pro bono initiatives. That said, the work itself can be very different in different jurisdictions. So while the amount of pro bono performed has been tracked, comparisons are not intended to be drawn between countries. Data relating to pro bono engagement is grouped into regions where the lawyers are located, excluding jurisdictions known for a high degree of infrastructure of pro bono (namely England and Wales, the United States and Australia). Where there is sufficient data, country indices have been created. In providing the data in this way benchmarks of pro bono engagement have been generated, helping firms understand more about the local contexts in which they operate.

Throughout the analysis, the Index splits respondent firms into three groups based on headcount:

• Small Firms: Firms who have a total headcount of 0 – 49 fee earners

• Medium-sized Firms: Firms who have 50 – 199 fee earners

• Large Firms: Firms who have 200+ fee earners.

Using the number of fee earners is a simplified proxy for the resources and capacity of a firm. By grouping firms in this way, the Index explores whether, and to what extent, a firm’s resources impacts pro bono engagement levels and how firms of different sizes allocate their resources to organise their pro bono practices.

Qualitative Analysis

The qualitative information provided was used to develop a detailed industry analysis that is anonymised and aggregated concerning firms pro bono practice, focus areas and methods of rewarding and incentivizing pro bono.

Data Quality And Assurance

Firms are invited to contribute their own data to the Index over any given 12 month period. This data is checked upon submission and reviewed by a data analyst. When inaccuracies are found, firms were asked to resubmit their data.

In the event that a firm finds any inaccuracy in their self-reported data set following the Index’s publication, it is the firm’s prerogative to advise and the indices will be updated to reflect the amended data set.

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