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2014 TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono

Updated: Sun, 6 Apr 2014

Our index by the numbersBack to top

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Pro bono is global, and thriving: that is the key finding of this research. Firms with just one lawyer and firms with over 1,500 responded, providing an array of fascinating insights into the pro bono sector at large. Just over 36,000 lawyers work at the firms that responded to the index, and on average these lawyers have performed 43.0 hours of pro bono each over the last 12 months. 

While the basic quantitative indicators used - average number of hours of pro bono undertaken per fee-earning lawyer and percentage of lawyers in a firm doing ten or more hours of pro bono – give a broad indication of engagement levels at a firm, these metrics are only a small piece of what makes a successful pro bono practice.  The findings here have shown that a number of the structural factors tracked have a very significant impact on the amount of pro bono done by firms. 

There is no strong relationship between the number of fee-earners at a firm and the amount of pro bono being done. However larger and smaller legal teams in each country tended to do more pro bono than their mid-sized counterparts. For firms with more than 100 fee-earners in a jurisdiction, lawyers perform on average 34.2 hours of pro bono, whilst for those teams with 20 – 99 fee-earners in a jurisdiction this drops to 15.8 hours. For firms with less than 20 fee-earners in a jurisdiction, the average is 22.4 hours.

Factoring pro bono into compensation for lawyers has a dramatic impact on the amount lawyers do. Those lawyers for whom pro bono does count as part of their compensation determination perform on average 39.5 hours of pro bono a year, compared to 23.5 hours for those that do not have the same incentive. While other factors may also be at play here (e.g., firms that do take pro bono into account when considering compensations may also have a number of other schemes and initiatives to encourage and support pro bono in their firms), the extent of the difference here does seem to suggest that this factor has a significant impact.

Lawyers at firms with a pro bono coordinator in place do 34.4 hours of pro bono on average, compared to 23.6 hours at firms that do not have a coordinator. This sizeable difference seems to show that the presence of a pro bono coordinator is an important factor in strengthening pro bono practices. When this coordinator is full time, the difference is even greater: firms with a full-time coordinator in place average 44.8 hours of pro bono per fee-earner per year, versus 20.3 hours for those with a coordinator who is not full-time. There is also a big difference in the proportion of lawyers doing ten or more hours of pro bono at firms with coordinators compared to those without (48.3% compared to 23.6%). 

The presence of a pro bono committee also has a positive impact on the average number of pro bono hours undertaken.  Firms with a committee reported an average of 34.8 hours compared to 28.9 hours at firms that do not. Interestingly this has less impact on the proportion of lawyers performing ten or more hours of pro bono. With a committee in place that proportion stands at 44.8%, as opposed to 40.7% without.

Firms with a pro bono requirement in place, either encouraging or requiring their lawyers to do a minimum number of hours of pro bono each year, do on average, more pro bono work than those without.  The presence of such a requirement has a positive impact on the amount of pro bono undertaken (42.7 hours on average for lawyers at firms with a requirement and 29.3 hours for those without). Unsurprisingly it also has a considerable impact on engagement levels in a firm. At firms with a requirement in place (whether mandatory or aspirational), 53.3% of lawyers do ten or more hours of pro bono. That figure drops to 39.0% for those that do not have the same requirement.

While many have traditionally viewed pro bono work as providing assistance to individuals in need, respondents increasingly support non-profit and social enterprise organisations to a greater degree than other clients. Rather than working with individuals, 87.6% of firms said they support  non-profits and registered charities with pro bono assistance, with 73.0% working with social enterprises. Only 67.4% work with individuals.  The most commonly supported development fields are access to justice (selected by 62.4% of respondent firms), economic development (43.5%) and human rights (41.1%).

The detailed analysis is broken down into four sections: 

- Clients: types of pro bono clients supported

- Targets: impact that aspirational and mandatory targets have on pro bono hours

- Infrastructure: effect of committees and coordinators on pro bono work

- Size: breakdown of hours and engagement in small, medium and large firms and offices

Types of clients supported pro bonoBack to top

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Charities and nonprofits are the most commonly supported pro bono clients, with social enterprises close behind. Only 67% of respondent firms support individuals pro bono. See more analysis on types of pro bono clients supported in the Clients section.

Firms’ pro bono focusBack to top

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Firms focus on a range of areas with their pro bono work: the most popular among respondents to the index were Access to Justice, Economic Development and Microfinance, and Human Rights. See more analysis on the focus areas of firms’ pro bono work in the Clients section.

Average hours of pro bono for firms with or without targetsBack to top

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Targets, whether aspirational or mandatory, have a big impact on the average number of pro bono hours done per fee earner. See more analysis on how targets matter in the Targets section.

Hours and engagement for firms with or without pro bono infrastructureBack to top

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Having an infrastructure, including a pro bono committee or coordinator, leads to increased hours and higher participation in pro bono across a firm. See more analysis on why this occurs in the Infrastructure section.

Pro bono and firm sizeBack to top

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Firms with more than 100 fee earners do the most pro bono per fee earner, followed closely by small firms with under 20 fee earners. The average for medium sized firms (20-99 fee earners), is just about half. See more analysis on how the size of firms impacts pro bono hours in the Size section.

TrustLaw is the Thomson Reuters Foundation's global pro bono service that connects NGOs and social enterprises with the best law firms around the world. Launched in 2010, TrustLaw has grown to include over 2,500 members in 170 countries. Our mission is to spread the practice of pro bono worldwide to drive social change.