Index of Pro Bono 2020


Welcome to the 2020 TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono, produced by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to map the global scale and trends of the pro bono legal sector.

This is the fourth such benchmarking exercise undertaken by the Foundation – and our largest ever. Our first, launched in 2014, compiled data from 105 law firms in 69 countries. Today’s index uses data sourced from 215 law firms representing 150,000 lawyers from 91 countries – a testament to the growing practice of pro bono legal assistance across the world, and during a period of unprecedent global crisis.

It is clear from our survey that the practice of pro bono is growing, fuelled by a desire to support the local community, and in sectors directly linked to the needs arising from these ongoing global emergencies. Lawyers have given a staggering 4 million hours of pro bono work over the last year to charities, social enterprises and individuals, providing crucial support to advance a wide range of issues from access to justice, economic development and microfinance, to human rights, women and LGBT+ rights, freedom of speech, sustainability and climate change.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation has long championed the practice of pro bono; scaling and developing the sector has been core to the work of TrustLaw, our pro bono legal network - now the largest in the world and launched over a decade ago.

Today, the power of the law remains a key driver of the Foundation’s work in advancing media freedom, fostering more inclusive economies and promoting human rights – work that is undertaken in the belief that societies around the world should be free, fair and informed.

To this end, TrustLaw works with leading law firms and corporate legal counsels to facilitate free legal support, ground-breaking research and resources for NGOs and social enterprises in 175 countries. By spreading the practice of pro bono worldwide, the service contributes to strengthening civil society and driving social change. Its network has grown to more than 6,000 members, including more than 950 law firms and in-house legal teams. It has facilitated more than 7,500 pro bono legal projects across 180 countries to date.

Using pro bono legal support to accelerate social impact is extraordinarily powerful; TrustLaw’s work over the years has resulted in real and lasting change – from protecting domestic worker rights in the Philippines, to banning conversation therapy for LGBT+ youth; from outlawing child marriage across the US to using technology to bring war criminals to justice. These outcomes were only made possible thanks to the generosity of our legal partners.

Through Trustlaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation has also trained more than 300 lawyers in the emerging fields of social entrepreneurship and social finance to better equip them to support the social innovators and impact investors that are tackling some of the most significant challenges of our time. And it has worked with key stakeholders from across sectors to produce dozens of pioneering tools and resources to better support vulnerable communities around the world.

In an era where three global crises converge - health, economic and environmental - maintaining and growing the pro bono support of leading law firms and corporate legal departments around the world has never been more critical for NGOs and social enterprises on the frontlines of social change.

The objective of this index is two-fold; by identifying trends in the pro bono legal sector, it acts as a vital resource for law firms developing pro bono practices within their firms; and that by providing benchmarking data and transparency in different jurisdictions, it allows lawyers to better understand the industry, to set their own targets and encourage support for the sector.

Ultimately, our hope is that the index provides law firms with the information they need to create the right infrastructure for robust and sustainable pro bono practices and to achieve the greatest impact from their pro bono work. There has never been a greater need for it.

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

Antonio Zappulla

Chief Executive Officer, Thomson Reuters Foundation


The TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono is designed to be a hub for information on 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 pro bono practices within their firms to achieve 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 four years since the last version of the Index was published, strong trends continue to emerge in 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 both sectors looking for ways to strengthen their offerings in the face of financial pressure and competition. This could not be more apparent with the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed ways of doing business. A strong understanding of the state of pro bono globally is crucial to continuing 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 support for the sector.

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 realised through the establishment of infrastructure to support pro bono. 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.

What Data Was Collected

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

  • The average number of hours of pro bono per lawyer (fee earner) over a self-selected 12-month reporting period
  • The percentage of fee earners at a firm performing 10 plus hours of pro bono over the 12-month reporting period

These indicators have been chosen to provide a broad representation of engagement levels by lawyers and within firms, and, combined with other metrics, can 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 focus areas: whether firms prefer to work with certain types of pro bono clients and on certain types of pro bono matters;
  • Pro bono infrastructure and practice: whether firms utilise pro bono coordinators, committees or policies such as pro bono eligibility criteria or oversight of pro bono by partners; and,
  • Incentivising and rewarding pro bono: the implementation of pro bono targets and consideration of pro bono in performance appraisals and in awarding compensation.

Who Provided Data

Law firms of 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. In total, 215 firms in 91 jurisdictions provided information about how they structure their practice, and of those 203 submitted detailed data on how much pro bono their lawyers undertake. For purposes of the Index, firms were placed in one of three categories of geographical reach:

  • International: firms with global practices situated in offices across multiple continents;
  • Regional: firms with a regional or continental reach with offices in multiple cities within either a geographic region or continent; and
  • Local or national: firms with a country-based focus with offices within a single country.

This was the widest range of respondents we have ever received for the Index, meaning the data offers a detailed and unique snapshot of pro bono practice in 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. Only Qualifying Work done by Qualifying Fee Earners for Qualifying Clients is considered Qualifying Pro Bono for the purposes of the Index. 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

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 selected by the respondent firm. Firms had to select any 12-month period falling between 1 January 2019 and 31 August 2020 (the self-selected 12 month reporting period). The data is presented in country or regional indexes, detailing individual firm data on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. For purposes of the Index, Qualifying Pro Bono must meet the three criteria below:

  • Qualifying Work: legal advice, assistance, representation, and research, as well as drafting agreements, policy documents or legislative instruments – as long as it is done without financial return. In this report, we refer to it simply as “pro bono”. It is distinct from legal aid, which usually refers to state-funded legal advice or representation for individuals who are unable to afford legal services.
  • Qualifying Fee Earner: any legal professional who performs fee earning work for clients. In this report we may substitute the terms “fee earner” and “lawyer”. Fee earner is a category that includes students and trainees, law clerks, paralegals and other valued pro bono contributors within law firms. We use the plain language term “lawyer” for readability and as a stand-in for this wider range of professionals who support pro bono.
  • Qualifying Clients: people of limited means or organisations with a societal, environmental, humanitarian, cultural or community focus, as validated by the law firm, referral organisations or pro bono organisations.

Global Analysis

The global trends analysis in the first section of the Index below (of i.e., firm size, clients, focus areas, infrastructure and incentives) looks purely at law firm size and does not take into account the jurisdiction in which the law firm was based. Local context has an impact on the amount of pro bono done (as can be seen elsewhere in the Index), and the local regulatory, economic and market conditions have a significant effect on the size of the law firms that can be supported.

Country-level Analysis

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. While the amount of pro bono performed has been tracked, comparisons are not intended to be drawn between countries. Country samples were reviewed for any significant differences in the composition of respondents. Comparisons were carried out between the 2016 and 2020 data sets only where the key characteristics of the samples were similar. In instances where either year’s sample was significantly distinct from the other, no comparative analysis is presented. Where country-level comparisons are included, they reflect the responses received in 2016 and 2020 and are not meant to be applied across the entire population of providers or to assert trends for the country.

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 (four or more submissions), country indexes received stand-alone analyses. 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 impact pro bono engagement levels, and how firms of different sizes allocate resources to 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 incentivising pro bono.

Data Quality and Assurance

Firms were invited to contribute their own data for any given 12-month period during 2019 and 2020 to the Index. This data was checked upon submission, reviewed by a data analyst and audited by an independent data scientist. When inaccuracies were found, firms were asked to resubmit their data