R. Bruce McLean still shakes his head when he thinks about how his firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, derailed its pro bono program in 2000. Firms across the country had increased associate salaries to $125,000. Akin Gump had generally allowed associates to mix pro bono with the minimum 2,000 billable hours needed to be eligible for a bonus. But after the raises, it stopped counting pro bono work — all 2,000 hours would have to be billable.

In 2001 Akin Gump recorded a nearly 40 percent drop in pro bono hours per lawyer. But by year’s end, the firm reversed its position, again allowing pro bono work to be counted toward the minimum. “We made a very serious error,” McLean says.