This week lawyers nationwide are participating in the National Pro Bono Celebration, a week-long initiative launched by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. Now in its fifth year, the Celebration unites bar associations, law firms, public interest organizations, and courts around the country to recognize the importance of pro bono work. Through recruitment events, awareness campaigns, and training sessions, the Celebration honors the tremendous work attorneys have done to provide free legal services to those in need while also emphasizing the increasing demand for such services in troubled economic times.
For law firm associates, a pro bono case can be a fulfilling ray of light in what may feel like an otherwise soulless existence, and it can also present valuable training opportunities that are not otherwise available on large-scale corporate matters. But there is also a delicate balance to strike—the general rule at some firms is that billable work always comes first, and for associates who are already working 12+ hour days, devoting time to a pro bono case is undeniably challenging. Additionally, pro bono clients may face urgent situations that junior attorneys are not necessarily trained to handle on their own. For these reasons, support from firm administration is crucial for a successful pro bono program.
In Vault’s Associate Survey we asked associates to rate their own firms’ pro bono commitment on a 1 to 10 scale, and then we calculated each firm’s average score. Here are the ten firms who earned the highest scores for their commitment to pro bono work, along with some highlights of their associates’ rave reviews:
- Patton Boggs: “Patton Boggs is more committed to pro bono work than any firm I've encountered. There is no lip service, only actual service. Although the 100 hour pro bono requirement is onerous when added on top of the 1950 billable requirement, the firm has always been supportive of all my pro bono efforts and allowed me to bring in various pro bono clients.”
- Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler: “Patterson has a very strong to commitment to pro bono. 100% of the lawyers here do it. And they don’t just knock out a few hours a year to make that statistic—the average time dedicated to pro bono is something like 120 or 130 hours a year.”
- Foley Hoag: “The firm encourages us to take on as much pro bono work as we can, within reason, and supports us at every step . . . Foley is known for its commitment to domestic violence work, both on behalf of individual victims and in cases with broader policy implications. The firm is also proud of its involvement in the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, along with other high-profile pro bono cases, many of them involving civil rights issues. The commitment is real; it’s not a marketing ploy. I'm extremely proud of the firm in this regard.”
- Jenner & Block: “Everyone here does pro bono. Most attorneys have at least one pro bono case on their desks at all times. The firm strongly encourages newer associates to get involved in pro bono matters to better train and prepare them for future responsibility. It is not unusual for associates to take depositions, appear in court, and chair trials within their first few years.”
- Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld: “Awesome program, awesome partner who runs it, awesome clients. Lots of room to choose the kind of work you want to do pro bono and use it as a way to build skills, create good karma, and feel warm and fuzzy at a law firm.”
- Hunton & Williams: “The only hours I have ever been pressured to bill are pro bono hours.”
- WilmerHale: “[The] [f]irm generally has exemplary ethical standards. It’s a part of the identity here, and partners/management are very proud of it. This extends to pro bono. Pro bono is real work here.”
- Holland & Hart: “All attorneys are required to complete 100 hours of pro bono work annually. The firm provides many opportunities to become involved in pro bono work, both legal and otherwise. “
- Paul Hastings: “All pro bono hours count towards billable time and the firm strongly encourages participation in pro bono work by all attorneys. All attorneys are strongly encouraged to complete a minimum of 20 hours per year and most attorneys commit much more than 20 hours.”
- Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo: “We have a full-time partner dedicated to pro bono work. The firm’s commitment to pro bono is outstanding. The best humble brag emails in the firm are always to celebrate our pro bono victories. Mintz is loud and proud about its pro bono work.”
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