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Here are three numbers to which lawyers need to pay special heed in this issue. One: Over the past ten years, the average gross revenue of the most successful law firms in the land increased by 56 percent, to $265.5 million. Two: During the same period, average annual profits per partner rose by 34 percent, to $755,000 (adjusted for inflation). Three: Since 1992, when our record keeping changed, the average number of pro bono hours worked annually by lawyers in the Am Law 100 firms decreased by 35 percent to 36 hours and 18 minutes a year, or eight minutes a day. Eight minutes a day, five days a week. It’s such an extraordinary number that I needn’t disturb my italics key again. This is not a time to be unnecessarily churlish. This issue of our magazine inevitably serves to celebrate the success of the nation’s leading law firms. Enjoy it. But amid the cacophony of partners opening champagne bottles, partners grabbing for their singing Blackberries, partners demanding that their headhunters pull their ripcords (now!), it’s worth pondering a bit of paraphrased, politically correct scripture: What profiteth a lawyer to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his, or her, soul? Eight minutes a day is not nothing, but it doesn’t match the recommended minimum set by the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Since 1993, rule 6.1 specifies that a lawyer should aspire to at least 50 hours a year of pro bono service. According to our numbers, 18 Am Law 100 firms meet the Model Rules’ standard. But even of those, only eight increased their per capita pro bono commitment. The seven are: Alston & Bird; Davis Polk; Fried, Frank; Heller Ehrman; Howrey & Simon; Paul, Weiss; Simpson Thacher; and Skadden, Arps. This rule is just an exhortation. As a result, rule 6.1 is enforced only as a matter of conscience. And after already donating roughly 40 minutes a week, who would have time for that? Sorry, the facts keep getting in the way of my even disposition. The legal profession in general and the lawyers of The Am Law 100 do a remarkable amount of volunteer legal work. Even in a year when lawyers were so busy they were turning away cash-paying clients, 42 firms increased their gross pro bono commitments, even though most of them still fell short of the rule 6.1 guideline. Nor do these hourly numbers take into account the noble direct grants that firms make to subsidize public interest lawyers. It may be that the bar is just returning to its mean. There is a myth alive that lawyers have long stood up for the needy downtrodden without fear, favor, or the chance of a fee. A few always did. Since the late nineteenth century, when George Sharswood of the University of Pennsylvania wrote an influential ethics treatise with a call for lawyers to see as their “duty, perhaps more properly [their] privilege” to work for the poor, pro bono efforts have been a stock part of model codes of lawyer behavior. In this view, as Louis Brandeis simply put it, a profession is an “occupation which is pursued largely for others and not merely for one’s self.” It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s, with the rise of the civil rights movements and government-funded legal services agencies, that pro bono work became a professional lodestar. Some members of the organized bar even began agitating for mandatory pro bono work. All were soundly defeated. Some foes, as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once put it, worried that the requirement was a “recipe for malpractice.” Others thundered that the Thirteenth Amendment’s ban on “involuntary servitude” extended even to lawyers. A few worried that not all work for indigents was “beneficial.” That debate is over. Now let’s talk self-interest. As my colleague Roger Parloff has said in this space before, firms with active pro bono programs have a leg up in the recruiting wars. They also have cases on which they can help train their young lawyers. Pro bono efforts help to set the profession apart. Want to keep the accountants off your turf? A dose of good deeds might convince legislators that the bar deserves its monopoly on the practice of law. Then there is the matter of legacy — yours. Recently an enormously successful lawyer explained why he was leaving his practice to join a start-up. He was struck by the death of a partner a few years earlier, a man who had been the core of his firm. Within days, my friend said, it was as though the deceased had never existed. I want to make my mark, he said. He went off to make a fortune instead. Imagine if he had gone to do public service, however he defined it. His legend would be told unto the generations. So, fellow mark makers, how would you like to be remembered: by your toys or by your deeds?

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