The first-ever global index of pro bono legal assistance, released yesterday by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, concludes that pro bono is thriving across the globe. Responses from 36,000 lawyers from 103 law firms in 69 countries show that they performed an average of 43 hours of pro bono each over the last 12 months.

The United States is a global leader in pro bono, the index found. Firms based or headquartered in the U.S. devoted some $31 million to pro bono over the last year. U.S. lawyers do the most pro bono on average of any country, with a nationwide average of 74.4 hours per lawyer. Sixty-nine percent of U.S. lawyers do 10 or more hours of pro bono.

The global pro bono index was compiled by TrustLaw, a service of the Thomson Reuters Foundation that connects NGOs and social enterprises with pro bono legal services around the world. The purpose was to fill the void in data on global pro bono practices.

While information on the scale of pro bono is readily available in markets like the US, England, and Australia, it is scant or nonexistent in most jurisdictions around the world, in spite of the increasing amount of pro bono work being done. The TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono fills that void.

Some key findings of the survey are:

  • Larger and smaller firms tended to do more pro bono than mid-sized firms. At firms with more than 100 lawyers in a  jurisdiction, lawyers perform on average 34.2 hours of pro bono. In firms of 20–99, that drops to 15.8 hours. It picks up again at firms of fewer than 20 lawyers, to an average of 22.4 hours.
  • Factoring pro bono into lawyers’ compensation dramatically increases how much they do. Lawyers for whom pro bono does count as part of their compensation determination perform on average 39.5 hours of pro bono per year, compared to 23.5 hours for those that do not have this incentive.
  • Lawyers at firms with a pro bono coordinator in place do significantly more pro bono than those at firms that do not, 34.4 hours on average compared to 23.6 hours. When the coordinator is is full time, the difference is even greater. Firms with a full-time coordinator average 44.8 hours of pro bono per lawyer per year, compared to 20.3 hours for those with a part-time coordinator.
  • The presence of a pro bono committee has a positive impact on the average number of pro bono hours. Firms with a committee reported an average of 34.8 hours compared to 28.9 hours at firms without one.
  • Not surprisingly, firms with a pro bono requirement — either encouraging or requiring a minimum number of pro bono hours — do more pro bono work: 42.7 hours on average for lawyers at firms with a requirement compared to 29.3 hours for those without.

The website for the index provides region-by-region breakdowns of the data as well as listing of the top law firms in the region ranked by average pro bono hours per fee earner. TrustLaw plans to compile the index annually.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.