Barton J. Winokur challenged the attorneys at Dechert to improve their pro bono numbers over the past two years, and it looks to have been an effective call to action.
The firm’s new mandatory minimum of 25 pro bono hours per attorney – implemented in 2006 – was well surpassed, with the 922 attorneys averaging 85 hours in 2007, up from 55 last year. And a little more than 98 percent of the firm’s attorneys logged more than 20 hours during the year, up from 41.4 percent in 2006.
The performance moved Dechert up 60 spots in The American Lawyer‘s annual pro bono report to eighth place on the list for its 2007 numbers.
A commitment to pro bono has to come from the top down, which is one of the reasons Winokur handles pro bono matters, too. If certain attorneys weren’t meeting their numbers, he said they got a phone call from him.
“Just saying it the first time, people don’t really know you mean it,” he said. “But when you pick up the phone and tell people,” that’s a different story.
Winokur said the firm didn’t do as well as it could have this year because there were a few attorneys who didn’t make the mark. That was factored into compensation for partners and associates, he said.
According to the pro bono report, the most important pro bono effort by the firm in 2007 was a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia to form the Philadelphia Landlord/Tenant Team to represent low-income tenants facing eviction. The team handled 50 cases in its first year.
Ethan D. Fogel, a partner in Dechert’s Philadelphia office, spends 60 percent of his time on pro bono efforts for the office. Winokur said he didn’t want any of the attorneys to say they couldn’t find pro bono work that appealed to them, so Fogel spent time coming up with the landlord/tenant program. Winokur said it’s something that corporate attorneys can enjoy, too.
Dechert spent the most pro bono hours in 2007 – 5,500 – representing 16 Afghan nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay. That work began in 2004, according to the report.
Drinker Biddle & Reath and Cozen O’Connor had the most dramatic drops down the list when it came to Pennsylvania firms. Drinker Biddle fell 44 places to 130th and Cozen O’Connor dropped 30 spots to 114th.
The average pro bono hours per lawyer at Drinker Biddle went from 43.9 to 24.1 and the percentage of attorneys doing more than 20 hours went from 34.1 percent to 29.4 percent. The total number of pro bono hours donated by the firm dropped by 22.3 percent from 18,575 in 2006 to 14,430 in 2007. The firm was unable to comment by press time.
At Cozen O’Connor, the average pro bono hours per lawyer went from 32.9 to 29.2 and the percentage of attorneys doing more than 20 hours went from 46.5 percent to 38.9 percent. The firm’s total number of pro bono hours decreased by about 6.2 percent in 2007, moving from 14,015 in 2006 to 13,150 last year.
Cozen O’Connor’s decline in the rankings in 2007 makes for a three-year trend.
Pro bono committee Chairman Douglas Fox had said last year that the firm’s pro bono work in Lozano v. City of Hazleton - a case over the town’s unique immigration laws – would bring the firm up in the rankings this year. Fox was unavailable for comment for this article by press time.
On the whole, the 15 Pennsylvania firms included in the rankings were pretty much split when it came to which firms were improving their pro bono rank and which were falling down the list.
Seven firms improved their position, moving up between eight and 60 spots. Eight firms dropped in the ranks, with two just falling one spot.
Pepper Hamilton moved up 10 spots to 60th, Reed Smith jumped eight spots to 70th, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney moved up 13 places to 102nd, Blank Rome edged up 12 spots to 111th, Duane Morris moved eight places to 139th and Fox Rothschild jumped 10 spots to 163rd on the list.
Morgan Lewis & Bockius, one of the biggest movers up the list last year, fell three spots to 25th this year. Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll dropped 5 places to 54th, Saul Ewing fell seven spots to 57th, K&L Gates dropped one place to 99th, Wolf Block fell 13 spots to 155th and Stevens & Lee moved one spot down the list to 177th.
According to The American Lawyer’s report, AmLaw 100 firms show a greater commitment to pro bono than their counterparts in the AmLaw 200.
The average hours per lawyer at AmLaw 100 firms is 61.8 compared to 32.2 in the smaller firms. The percentage of lawyers with more than 20 hours is 47.3 in AmLaw 100 firms and 29.4 in AmLaw 200 firms. •