March 20, 2009
Nearly Three-Fourths of America's Lawyers Do Pro Bono Work
Pro bono work by America’s lawyers is on the increase with nearly three-fourths of lawyers providing free legal services to disadvantaged individuals or to the organizations that serve them. That’s one of the significant findings of a new study done by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.
The study – Supporting Justice II: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyers – shows that lawyers do pro bono work at nearly three times the rate that members of the general population do volunteer work. The ABA study done in 2008 shows that 73 percent of lawyers do pro bono work compared to 26.2 percent of the general population that does volunteer work.
The 73 percent figure in the most recent study is an increase from the 66 per cent of lawyers indicating that they provided free legal services for the disadvantaged in a similar study done in 2004.
“The results of this study allow us to take pride in the work lawyers do to support their communities,” said ABA President H. Thomas Wells Jr. “While the pro bono work by lawyers continues to increase, we have a way to go to reach the aspirational goal of the ABA of 50 hours of pro bono work for each lawyer in the country.”
Along with an increase in the percentage of lawyers doing pro bono work, the number of hours of pro bono service per lawyer is trending upward as well. In the 2004 study, each lawyer performed an average of 39 hours of pro bono service. In the 2008 study, the number of hours for each lawyer increased to 41.
“What is especially gratifying about these numbers,” said Mark I. Schickman, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, “is that they confirm that lawyers deliver free legal services to people of limited means, which under the ABA model rule refers to people at or near the federal poverty rate. This study shows that there are many lawyers who do pro bono or volunteer work that helps people with these very modest incomes. Although lawyers donate more than 20 million hours each year, the poor still do not have access to the legal help they need 80 percent of the time.”
According to the study, lawyers provide pro bono service because they are aware of the needs of people or organizations, the personal satisfaction of giving back and the belief that lawyers should give back to their communities.
The study surveyed lawyers as a representative sampling of the legal profession as a whole with 83 percent of respondents coming from private practice, 9 percent who are corporate counsel and 8 percent who are government lawyers. Within the private practice segment, 48 percent were solo practitioners, 20 percent came from firms of two to 10 lawyers, 12 percent from firms of 11-50 lawyers, 4 percent from firms of 51-100 lawyers and 16 percent from firms with more than 101 lawyers.
Lawyers who do not do pro bono cite a lack of time or support from their employers.
>>View a PDF copy of the study.