Pro bono work by Washington-based lawyers is on the rise, according to a new survey released this week by the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Committee.
In 2012, 62 of the city's largest law firms reported that more than 10,000 D.C.-based lawyers completed over 825,000 hours of pro bono service—an average of 81 hours per lawyer. The numbers are up from 2011, when lawyers reported an average of 78 hours of pro bono service.
The survey results, which included details on how firms managed pro bono programs and how pro bono hours compared with total billable hours, showed more attorneys were not only reporting pro bono work, but were doing more of it. In 2011, 9,979 lawyers at 61 firms reported doing 776,234 hours of pro bono work. Of those same 61 firms, they reported that 10,045 lawyers completed 824,525 pro bono hours in 2012—a six percent increase.
James Sandman, chair of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Committee and executive director of the Legal Services Corporation, called the results "great news."
With the economy stabilizing and law firm hiring rebounding, he said, "we've seen the end of the shrinkage in incoming associate classes, and it's always been the case that associates are responsible for a significant amount of pro bono work."
The survey is part of the bar's efforts over the past decade to boost pro bono work. As part of the pro bono initiative, firms have pledged to commit a certain percentage or number of hours to pro bono each year, and then the annual survey tracks their progress. Participation in the program has grown from 41 firms in 2001 to 62 this year.
Sandman said the survey doesn't track what type of pro bono work lawyers do, but said he's pushed for firms to focus on the need at home. "I am always trying to encourage the firms that participate in the pro bono initiative to be sure they're devoting attention to the needs of low income people in the District of Columbia: our neighbors, the people in our own backyards."
According to the survey, 48 percent of attorneys reported completing a minimum of 50 pro bono hours, the amount recommended by the American Bar Association.
Besides reporting on pro bono hours, the firms also provided information on internal pro bono policies. Fifty-eight of the 62 firms said they credited non-partner pro bono hours towards billable hour requirements and bonus evaluations, and 37 firms said they provided partners with billable credit.
More than half of the firms reported having attorneys manage firm pro bono programs, while 23 percent said a non-attorney managed the program. The majority of firms said partners were expected to do pro bono work and that they communicated pro bono expectations to new attorneys joining the firm.
Fifty-four of the firms reported more detailed information on billable hours. The survey showed those firms contributed an average of 4.6 percent of all billable hours to pro bono work. Nine of the 54 firms reported contributing at least seven percent of billable hours to pro bono.
The survey didn't include a firm-by-firm breakdown of the results.