ABA report reveals legal pro bono service trends

A national survey of lawyers shows that 63 percent of respondents who provided pro bono service in 2011 reported having worked on matters that address the everyday legal problems of people in poverty.

The survey report, “Supporting Justice III: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyers,” also found  that respondents provided an average of 56.5 hours of pro bono work, with a median of 30 hours.  “The report showcases the depth of the American legal profession’s longstanding and ongoing commitment to providing legal services to those unable to afford them, and it highlights valuable opportunities for us to
encourage even more lawyers to volunteer their services to those in need,” said ABA President Laurel G. Bellows.

The report, released by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, quantifies the amount of pro bono work done by U.S. lawyers in 2011, identifies factors that encourage or discourage pro bono service and describes characteristics of recent pro bono service that can help guide new pro bono initiatives.

The report breaks down, by firm size, the average amount of pro bono hours in 2011, noting that:

• Lawyers from firms of 101 and more attorneys provided an average of 77.7 hours;

• Lawyers from firms of 51-100 attorneys provided an average of 39.9 hours;

• Lawyers from firms of 11-50 attorneys provided an average of 45.1 hours;

• Lawyers from firms of 2-10 attorneys provided an average of 58.5 hours; and

• Solo practitioners provided an average of 62.7 hours.

Top providers of pro bono credited several factors for their success. The 36 percent of respondents who performed 50 or more hours of pro bono in 2011 reported that they:

• Are most likely to have received their referrals from an organized pro bono program;

• Are more inclined to do pro bono during economic downturns;PP

• Are more likely to do pro bono in the future;

• Work for an employer that supports pro bono; and

• Are more likely to seek out pro bono cases rather than wait to be called.

Seventy percent of lawyers who were contacted directly by a pro bono program to assist with a matter reported taking advantage of the opportunity. 

Based on the survey results, the report identified substantial opportunities to enlist more lawyers to do the types of pro bono that most directly benefit poor clients.

Strategies include building and ensuring institutional support for pro bono, increasing πpro bono initiatives that are organized and supported by employers, and ensuring strong and effective infrastructure for bar association, legal-services and independent pro bono programs.

“Supporting Justice III: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyers” is available online.