When The American Lawyer ranked AmLaw 200 firms by their pro bono performance, Pennsylvania firms had a presence in all the notable categories - some good, some not so good.
Morgan Lewis topped the list of the most improved firms from 2005 to 2006, moving 94 spots to 22nd on the list.
However, Pepper Hamilton made the list of "biggest decliners," falling 31 spots to 70th.
Pennsylvania firms topped both the biggest risers and biggest decliners lists when looking at the five-year picture. Saul Ewing rose 121 spots since 2002, finishing up 50th this year and Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney dropped 66 spots since that time, moving to 115th for its 2006 pro bono performance.
It was a mixed bag for Pennsylvania firms in general, with eight local firms improving in the ranks and seven declining.
Morgan Lewis more than doubled the average number of pro bono hours per lawyer, from 31.7 in 2005 to 67.1 in 2006. The percentage of lawyers with more than 20 hours of pro bono service in 2006 grew from 30.6 to 73.7.
The firm attributes the tremendous rise to a top-down approach starting with firm Chairman Francis Milone.
According to Morgan Lewis' pro bono counsel, Amanda Smith, the firm really tries to focus on the "heart of pro bono," which is "one lawyer representing one client."
It was, admittedly, the larger cases that added to the bulk of the firm's pro bono hours in 2006, she said. Morgan Lewis has made a commitment to having a few death penalty cases ongoing at one time and spent several thousand pro bono hours in 2006 achieving a stay of execution for Texas death row inmate Cathy Henderson.
The firm also handled more than 80 asylum cases in 2006, totaling between 8,000 and 9,000 pro bono hours. Over 2005 and 2006, thousands of hours were spent representing a 18,000-member class out of Baltimore regarding fair housing in a suit against the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Karen L. Forman, pro bono counsel for Saul Ewing, said the firm's "We're All In" program that was launched in 2005 is what has kept the firm moving up in the pro bono survey rankings. Forman said having a dedicated pro bono counsel and the support of firm leadership has made the difference in the program, which focuses on the elderly and veterans.
"The culture of the firm is very clearly that everybody does pro bono work," Forman said.
Saul Ewing attorneys have staffed a helpline at the SeniorLAW Center. The helpline allows seniors to call in and make appointments to talk to Saul Ewing lawyers about their legal needs, she said.
Down in the Ranks
No one from Pepper Hamilton was available to comment for this article, but the firm's likely decline came from the conclusion of the highly publicized intelligent design trial handled by a few of the firm's attorneys.
Eric Rothschild, Stephen G. Harvey and other firm attorneys worked extensively on Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, with the majority of those hours clocked in 2005. The firm had moved up 22 spots from 2004 to 2005, ranking 39th in 2005. Buchanan Ingersoll has been on a steady decline in terms of its pro bono performance over the past few years. The firm fell 23 spots for 2006, dropping to 115th, and fell 40 spots between 2004 to 2005 to 92nd.
When discussing the results for 2005, the firm attributed much of the decline to the time spent on integration efforts after its merger with Burns Doane Swecker & Mathis and said its merger with Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling in July 2006 may have a similar effect.
Peter J. Ennis, one of the firm's two pro bono coordinators, said last week "a lot of time and energy was spent" on integration post-merger and had a continuing effect on the firm's pro bono performance. The goal is to have 3 percent of the firm's billable hours go toward pro bono work, and Ennis said he is certainly looking to improve upon this year's results.
While one or two cases can often make the difference in a firm's pro bono performance, other firms have been steadily climbing the ranks for the past few years.
Reed Smith made more than a steady jump from 2005 to 2006 - moving up 39 spots to 78th on the list - but the firm attributed the growth to three or four years of focus on pro bono work.
The firm's senior pro bono counsel, Christopher K. Walters, said there was no "silver bullet" that contributed to the firm's rise in the ranks. The firm reorganized its pro bono efforts in 2004, and better organization and management over the past three years has led to a steady rise in pro bono hours every six months, he said.
"What our firm learned is . . . frankly, until you put one person in charge of an activity and make them accountable for it . . . you're not going to get results that are truly satisfactory," Walters said.
Reed Smith finished up 2006 with an average of 41.2 pro bono hours for its attorneys and Walters said the firm is on target to finish at 50 hours for 2007. He attributed much of the program's success to a strong 16- to 18-member pro bono committee.
In a recent meeting of Philadelphia pro bono counsel, Walters said the group focused on the difficulty of getting their pro bono committees to do more than talk theory. That's a problem Walters said he doesn't have.
For the first half of 2006, he said the firm averaged 18 hours per lawyer and 23 hours for the second half of the year. In looking at the first half of 2007, Walters said the firm is at an average of about 23 pro bono hours per attorney.
Reed Smith's goal, he said, is to meet the American Bar Association Pro Bono Institute's challenge of dedicating 3 percent of the firm's billable hours to pro bono work. He said the firm is on pace to meet that goal by the end of 2007.
All of the attorneys at Dechert are expected to dedicate 25 hours a year to pro bono work, and firm pro bono counsel Suzanne E. Turner said there is a "huge commitment" to that goal within the firm.
Dechert had seen a dip in the rankings from 2004 to 2005, which Turner said was a "blip" because of a huge influx of attorneys that year. The firm rebounded for 2006, moving up 18 spots to 68th place with an average of 54.9 pro bono hours per attorney and 41.4 percent of the attorneys doing more than 20 hours.
Despite rolling out its pro bono initiative - 60 for 60 - in mid-2006, Blank Rome saw a slight decline in its pro bono performance for the year. The firm fell from 118th to 123rd with an 11.1 percent decline in the total number of pro bono hours completed by the firm.
Blank Rome's director of pro bono services, Kathy E. Ochroch, said the firm's goal to have each lawyer dedicate 60 hours to pro bono work (this is the firm's 60th year) is more of a long-term plan. She said the decline in pro bono hours in 2006 was due in large part to the firm's normally active death penalty team waiting for government action in one of the cases.
"I think our numbers will, in fact, be up next year," she said.
For the second straight year, Cozen O'Connor dipped in the rankings, falling from 71st in 2005 to 84th in 2006. It had dropped 43 spots the year before, and the firm had said it anticipated a rebound in 2006, which didn't materialize.
The firm's pro bono committee chairman, Douglas Fox, said Cozen O'Connor's fall wasn't by that much. The firm has been handling pro bono Lozano v. City of Hazleton, a case involving city ordinances that attempt to restrict the activities of undocumented workers. The majority of that work was in 2007 and will be reflected in next year's survey, he said.
"I think we've done a lot to turn things around," Fox said of the firm's pro bono efforts.
All of the Pennsylvania-area firms that are above Cozen O'Connor in the rankings, he said, have full-time pro bono counsel. Fox said he thinks it's clearly a trend and something the firm should take a look at.
"For a part-timer, we're doing pretty good," he said.
Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll was second among Pennsylvania firms, ranking 49th. Drinker Biddle moved up 16 spots to 86th. K&L Gates rose six places to 98th. Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen fell by six places to 142nd. Duane Morris dropped two spots to 147th. Fox Rothschild fell five places to 173rd. Stevens & Lee rose three spots to 176th.
From Hours to Dollars
Pennsylvania firms haven't just focused on hours given to indigent clients, but have opened their wallets as well.
In 2006, then Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Alan M. Feldman initiated the Raising the Bar campaign, which asked firms to pledge $300 per attorney toward public interest firms or the bar's foundation.
More than 130 firms signed onto the campaign in 2006 and about 35 have recommitted their pledges this year, according to the bar foundation's Web site. Of the AmLaw 200 firms from Pennsylvania, Ballard Spahr, Blank Rome, Buchanan Ingersoll, Duane Morris, Morgan Lewis and Reed Smith have recommitted to the program.