Why is Pro Bono Work Increasing?

Aderant Think Tank

Why is Pro Bono Work Increasing?

As we approach the holiday season, we at Aderant strive to look beyond our company and consider how we can impact the communities in which we live. In reflecting on the charitable and giving spirit of the season, the long-established practice of legal pro bono work came to mind.

I was both surprised and heartened to read in the ABA’s recent survey that pro bono legal work provided by attorneys at all levels has increased steadily since 2004. As noted by the Law360 blog, attorneys averaged 56.5 hours of pro bono work in 2011, up from 41 hours in 2008 and 39 hours in 2004. Why would free legal work be on the rise when lawyers are under more time and billing pressures than ever?

It’s Gratifying Work

According to the survey results, lawyers simply find the work to be both highly satisfying and a valuable public service. The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service found in their 2013 Report that attorneys indicated high levels of satisfaction with the pro bono experience. The ABA survey also found that 70% of attorneys agreed with the statement that “I believe that pro bono clients really need my help,” and 61% found the work “extremely gratifying.”

It Doesn’t Have to Be an Open-Ended Commitment

Flexibility in arrangements known as Limited Scope Representation (LSR) or unbundled legal services make it easier for an attorney to provide services without a long-term commitment, at the same time making it efficient for clients of modest means to obtain attorney services. Committing beginning-to-end to a particular case can be difficult as it’s often open-ended. Over the past 5-10 years there has been an increase in separating parts of the case where a single attorney helps with a very particular part of the case. A 2009 ABA study found “giving the attorney the ability to define the scope of the engagement (was one of) … the most powerful incentives to encourage greater pro bono activity.”

It’s Easier to Connect

Various organizations and startups have stepped in to provide extensive online support for both low-income individuals who can’t afford a lawyer and the lawyers seeking to provide services. For example, the Pro Bono Net site “promotes collaboration and makes it easier for pro bono attorneys to get involved, saving them time and connecting them with opportunities, training events, mentors, and searchable libraries of practice resources they won’t find anywhere else.”

Technology also continues to bridge the gap between lawyers willing to give their time and those needing legal assistance. Meetings can now occur virtually (via Skype, etc.) which expands the ability to help those in more remote areas.

It’s Good for Business

Joint pro bono ventures with legal departments of corporate clients can deepen client relationships. They provide opportunities to interact with clients on common interests outside of “the reason for doing business” and demonstrate skills and capacities.

In addition, recognition in programs such as The Pro Bono Challenge is great PR and can boost a firm’s image.

Despite the positive trends, the increase in pro bono work is not shared equally:

  • Big Law firms provide the majority of pro bono legal work in the U.S.
  • Mid-Law firms (here defined as having 2-50 attorneys) lag behind both larger firms and solo practitioners, with the highest percentages reporting that they did not provide any pro bono services.
  • 11% of attorneys report that they have never worked pro bono.

I think it’s important to also think out-of-the-box when it comes to pro bono. For instance, earlier this month Aderant held a corporate-wide day of service, taking a day out of the office and working as an Aderant team with a local charity in our community. In working together to better our communities we establish more community within our team and create a more engaged workforce.

Are you interested in starting a pro bono program at your firm or in giving your time, but aren’t sure where to begin? Resources like Pro Bono Net’s Volunteer Guide are a great place to start.

Join the discussion on LinkedIn or Twitter @Aderant and let us know what you think!

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