Pro bono work climbs but still room for improvement

By Emma Ryan|24 February 2021
Pro bono work

The average number of pro bono hours completed per lawyer increased over 2020, however there’s still more work that needs to be done on these efforts, new research has found.

The Australian Pro Bono Centre has released its seventh National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey, which examines the pro bono output of Australian firms with 50 or more lawyers.

According to the results, in the 2020 financial year, the average pro bono hours per lawyer was 35.5 hours. This represents an increase from the 34.07 hours cited in 2018’s report.

In total, respondents completed 457,216.4 hours of pro bono work. This marks the highest number of total hours reported on record, equating to 254 FTE lawyers doing pro bono legal work full-time for a year.

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Despite the positive results, the centre noted there is room for improvement.

While 58.8 per cent of firms reported an average pro bono participation rate of 58.8 per cent, this figure is down slightly on 2018’s figure of 61 per cent. That being said, when it comes to partner-specific participation the figures remain on an incline, with 48.7 per cent in 2020 compared to 42 per cent in 2018.

“The 2020 survey results demonstrate that the Australian pro bono community has continued to mature and grow since the previous Survey in 2018,” the report noted.

“… Pro bono legal work was recognised with full billable hour credit by 50 per cent of firms, a significant increase from the results of recent Survey years. More firms than ever before are providing pro bono secondments to community legal centres and other community organisations.

“However, there is still room for growth within the pro bono practices of large firms. In particular, the proportion of firms hiring at least one dedicated pro bono coordinator or manager has been consistently declining since 2012. Pleasingly, an increasing number of firms which appoint a pro bono coordinator are doing so full-time.

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“The average pro bono participation rate at Survey respondent firms has not meaningfully increased since 2010, dropping slightly in 2020 compared to 2018.”

Further, the Australian Pro Bono Centre noted around 40 per cent of firms that set a budget for their pro bono program reported having a larger budget in 2020 than in 2018.

“However, as in 2018, just over half of all respondent firms are setting any budget for their pro bono program, despite it being best practice to do so,” it noted.

Lawyers Weekly will publish more findings from the research in the coming days.

Pro bono work climbs but still room for improvement
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