The US based Pro Bono Institute (PBI) Law Firm Pro Bono Project published its 20th report of the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge this month.
One hundred and twenty nine law firms reported performing an aggregate of 4.238 million hours of pro bono work for the 2015 calendar year at an average of 59.5 pro bono hours per attorney.
Despite a small dip in hours per lawyer from 60.1 in 2014, total hours increased, and the average percentage of total paying client billable hours rose from 3.4% in 2014 to 3.5% in 2015.
The average participation rate of lawyers across these firms rose from 73% in 2014 to 74.6% in 2015.
Together with increases in pro bono hours for the poor, and increased charitable giving, the PBI characterised the results as a cause for optimism.
Many of the messages to be found in the PBI report seem to be quite relevant here in Australia.
The march toward access to justice for all is slow, difficult, and collective. Progress comes from the quiet, persistent efforts of law firm pro bono leaders, supporters, and doers. Despite flaws and obstacles, we press on, believing that for all the setbacks and disappointments there will be some days when we will succeed in, to paraphrase the immortal aspiration, bending the long arc of the moral universe ever closer toward justice.
Despite our bullish outlook on law firm pro bono, we must guard against complacency. Pro bono was never meant to be the exclusive answer to closing the justice gap. It is one tool in the access to justice toolbox.
Moreover, numbers don’t tell the whole story. They are a relatively straightforward and efficient way to capture quantitative productivity. We will continue thinking about additional, but realistic, measures to help the pro bono community better evaluate and improve overall pro bono performance and service to clients: Quality and consistency of work? Timeliness and helpfulness of services provided? The worth to the client? The “social good”? The quality of the volunteer experience, engagement, and impact on the firm? Answers to these and similar (but difficult) questions will help us tell a more complete and meaningful pro bono story.
Rather than exclusively trying to build “bigger” law firm pro bono programs, we advocate a focus on building “better” pro bono programs. This process requires being open to experimentation and evaluation and resisting the pull of the status quo and the power of the fear of failure to try new ideas to provide improved services to our pro bono clients.
The full report can be accessed here.