By: Janet Buczek, Karen Stuth, April Faith-Slaker Published by: ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service published in March 2013
Copyright 2013 American Bar Association. Reprinted by permission (attached PDF) for non-commericial use only.
This report presents the findings of a study conducted by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service as part of an ongoing effort to assess pro bono participation in America, identify strategies to expand pro bono legal services in the country, and measure progress in attorney pro bono participation.
The data collection and analysis in the report had four objectives:
- To quantify the amount of pro bono work done by attorneys;
- To identify the characteristics of recent pro bono service (e.g., the nature of the client, referral source, tasks done, consistency of expectations, etc.);
- To obtain demographic and work environment data;
- To identify factors either encouraging or discouraging pro bono service.
How Much Pro Bono Service Are America’s Attorneys Providing?
The average annual amount of direct legal representation provided by an attorney to persons of limited means or organizations supporting the needs of people with limited means was 56.5 hours in 2011, with a median of 30 hours including lawyers who performed no pro bono service.
Of the survey respondents answering questions about any direct legal representation they provided: 20% reported not having done any of such service; 18% reported providing 1-19 hours of such service; 26% reported providing 20-49 hours of such service; 36% of those surveyed provided at least 50 hours of such service, with 61% of this group providing over 80 hours of service. 68% of survey respondents indicated that they had performed some form of legal service for free or at a reduced fee for a person or organization.
What Are the Characteristics of Most Recent Pro Bono Service?
Characteristics of current pro bono service that study uncovered included: 63% of respondents who performed pro bono services in 2011 reported that the services provided related to the everyday legal problems of a person with limited means. The average amount of service of this type in 2011 was 27 hours, and the median was 10 hours; 60% of respondents indicated that their most recent client had been referred to them, but only 48% of these cases were referred by an organized bar association, legal services or independent pro bono program; Private attorneys provided significantly more pro bono hours than either corporate or government attorneys; Family law was the most common practice area receiving pro bono service.
What Factors Encourage or Discourage Pro Bono?
Approximately three-quarters of respondents who performed pro bono service in the past year did not seek out service opportunities but were contacted by third parties offering the opportunities. 59% of respondents believed that offering opportunities for limited scope representation would encourage lawyers to do more pro bono. Respondents also suggested that a wider range of volunteer opportunities as well as malpractice insurance would encourage pro bono service. Attorneys who provided at least 50 hours of pro bono were significantly more likely to report that their employer encouraged pro bono activities. Attorneys overwhelmingly mentioned time constraints as a factor discouraging pro bono service. Family obligations and a lack of skill or experience in the areas needed also limited participation.