Law firms worldwide are devoting more time to pro bono work – report

New study reveals key trends shaping the pro bono space amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Law firms worldwide are devoting more time to pro bono work – report

Law firms around the world are dedicating more time doing pro bono work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study has revealed.

Firms completed nearly four million hours of legal pro bono services globally, with lawyers allotting an average of 26.3 hours of their expertise for free to various legal matters – including human rights, access to justice, microfinance, and climate change – according to the 2020 Trust Law Index of Pro Bono from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The report compiled data from 215 law firms representing 150,000 lawyers from 91 countries over a 12-month period to provide a snapshot of the key trends shaping the pro bono marketplace, especially during one of the toughest years in recent history.

“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,” said Antonio Zappulla, chief executive officer of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Data from the index has shown that pro bono practice has been “spreading beyond the traditional realm of pro bono markets and global law firms” in the US, the UK, and Australia.

Regional breakdown

In the Americas – excluding the US – fee earners logged an average of 20.2 hours of pro bono work, nearly double than the 11.7 hours recorded when the data was last gathered in 2016. Pro bono engagement among partners also increased to 51%, almost twice the figure reported in the previous study.

Europe’s pro bono culture also continued to thrive, boosted by the region’s inaugural launch of the European Pro Bono Week in 2019, which was organised by law firms and non-profits.

Excluding England and Wales, the average pro bono hours carried out by fee earners from respondent firms increased from 15.2 hours in 2016 to 20.8 hours in 2020. Additionally, the percentage of those who reported doing 10 or more hours of pro bono work has spiked from 26% to 37% during the period.

However, partner engagement fell with firms reporting that only 38% of their partners contributed time to pro bono work, down from 42% in the previous study. The average hours undertaken by partners also dropped from 10.8 hours to 9.7 hours.

In the Asia-Pacific region – excluding Australia – although the average number of pro bono hours per fee earner slid from 24.2 hours in 2016 to 20 in 2020, the percentage of those doing 10 or more hours of pro bono slight rose from 31% to 32%, indicating a sustained interest in the sector.

The region also saw consistency in partner engagement with the percentage of partners doing any pro bono work increasing marginally from 39% to 40% during the period. Individual partners also took an average of 17.4 hours of pro bono in 2020, jumping from 13.4 hours in 2016.

In Africa, Nigeria stood out recording one of the highest global averages of pro bono hours per fee earner at 75.44 – ranking third worldwide. This shows a strong culture of pro bono in Africa’s largest nation. More than half (51%) of the partners in the country also reported having dedicated at least 10 hours to pro bono services last year.

“As in prior years, an overwhelming majority of lawyers (96%) state that they perform pro bono in order to give back to their community,” said Carolina Henriquez-Schmitz, director of TrustLaw. “The index illustrates a story of global growth and commitment to pro bono legal assistance to help drive the social and environmental change that is so critically needed across the globe during these challenging times.”

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