The national survey of pro bono legal work by solicitors
released by the National Pro Bono Resource Centre last week
contains important messages for management at larger commercial
firms about what is required to build a genuine pro bono culture
with employed solicitors.
Certainly, with 887 respondents or less than 2.5 percent of
admitted practitioners, the survey results may not be statistically
significant. We should be slow to take up the survey's
suggestion that solicitors across the board average 42˝
hours a year of pro bono legal work. The real number is likely to
be much lower.
However, the responses provide fascinating insights into how
solicitors feel about pro bono and why many of them do not do
These insights apply in particular to larger commercial firms,
with almost half of the survey respondents being employed
solicitors at firms with more than 40 lawyers, and more than half
coming from firms with offices in more than one Australian
As with solicitors in all parts of our profession, lawyers at
the larger commercial firms want to do pro bono work. Almost all
survey respondents (94 percent) believe solicitors should perform
pro bono work and 87 percent of respondents support a voluntary pro
bono goal to encourage all lawyers to aspire to pro bono legal
This second figure contrasts with the failure by a number of
leading firms to sign up to the National Pro Bono Resource
Centre's national pro bono inspirational target.
Obviously, signing onto the target is a strong signal to lawyers
and graduates that a firm supports their desire to perform pro bono
work. However, the survey suggests there are other ways in which
management can ensure pro bono becomes a real part of their
When asked about what action could be taken by their firm to
encourage more pro bono work, the top five responses were
"recognition for pro bono work in performance
appraisals", "giving full credit for pro bono work",
"clearer support from the firm", "more
appreciation/recognition of my pro bono work" and
"counting approved pro bono hours as billable hours".
This is hardly surprising, given the survey reveals that there
is often a significant gulf between the pro bono rhetoric of firm
leaders and how they actually regard the legal work performed by
their lawyers in the firm's name on a pro bono basis.
Lots of firms now talk about a commitment to pro bono.
However, only one-third of respondents were able to say that
their firm took pro bono work into account in their financial
targets. One-quarter said their firm looked at pro bono
contribution when considering promotion and advancement and a
meagre one-fifth of respondents could say that pro bono work was
looked at during salary reviews.
Perhaps the reported consideration by the federal government to
include pro bono contribution as a tender requirement for
government legal work will prompt commercial firms to revisit the
value they place internally on pro bono legal work.
The national survey results underline that in 2008, the employed
solicitors at large firms really do see the performance of pro bono
work as an essential part of their professional responsibility.
However, the survey indicates these solicitors want more than
just the chance to perform pro bono legal work. Instead of lip
service to a pro bono ideal from their employers, they want their
pro bono work to be recognised as real work, of real value.
Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide
commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon
as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular
transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin.
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