Since The A-List's advent in 2003,
The American Lawyer
has showcased firms that prove a healthy pro bono diet is no barrier to fat profits. Witness Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, which jumped 94 spots in the current ranking, while boosting pro bono hours by 112 percent and revenue per lawyer by 13.2 percent. Still, a big move in the pro bono rankings is the exception. Why haven't more firms vaulted up the charts? A five-year review shows that for a pro bono revolution to stick, it better begin at the top.
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Francis Milone’s conversion was a long time coming. “Historically, I had always been a busy lawyer,” says the former litigator, who has served as head of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius since 1999. “I billed large hours. But I had not spent any time on pro bono since my early days as an associate. Once I became chair, I began to think about the glue that holds an organization together. I began to think about our obligations as lawyers.” Those obligations, he decided, went beyond profits. In 2005 he told Morgan Lewis partners at an annual retreat that they must rededicate themselves to pro bono work. He also announced that he would lead by example. Milone took on his first case in many years — representing a disabled teenager who is suing a public school district outside Philadelphia for better educational opportunities — and went on the road, preaching the good word about pro bono to lawyers in the firm’s 11 largest American offices. “I found pent-up demand for attention to this area,” he says. Since the advent of The A-List in 2003, The American Lawyer has showcased firms that prove a healthy pro bono diet is not an impediment to fat profits. Morgan Lewis is our latest example. The firm jumped 94 spots in our current ranking, to No. 22 from 116 the year before. Morgan Lewis lawyers devoted an average of 67.1 hours to pro bono matters in 2006, a 112 percent increase over 2005, when they averaged 31.7 hours. And the firm didn’t have to take a bath on profits to do it: Revenue per lawyer was $770,000 in 2006, up 13.2 percent from 2005. Other firms, including Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae; and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, also posted impressive year-over-year gains in pro bono without taking a financial hit. Still, a big move in our pro bono rankings is the exception, not the rule. An analysis of five years of pro bono data shows that most firms move up or down our rankings slowly, by two or three places each year. A wholesale pro bono revival is fairly rare. Gibson, Dunn; Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy; Shearman & Sterling; and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal are the only firms that have climbed 75 spots or more into the top 20 of our pro bono chart in the five-year period. Other newcomers to the top 20 were already within striking distance, are new to The Am Law 200, or hadn’t supplied their numbers before. Firms in the highest echelon are an especially entrenched bunch — the top seven firms in 2006 finished in the top 10 in 2002.
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