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.