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In making the case for why lawyers and legal institutions should undertake pro bono work, supporters of pro bono service typically focus on the compelling need for such assistance. But research has shown that what makes good moral and ethical sense also — happily — makes good business sense, too. Countless national, state and local studies have detailed the appalling gap that exists between the millions who need, but are unable to afford or obtain, the specialized knowledge and skills of legal professionals to protect and vindicate basic human needs and fundamental rights vs. the shockingly limited resources available to meet those needs. Pro bono advocates often focus on the ethical underpinnings of pro bono service — every lawyer’s fundamental responsibility to ensure equal access to justice. Linked to this ethical imperative is the pivotal role played by pro bono in maintaining the professionalism of the legal profession. In seeking to preserve the highest ideals of our profession, lawyers must concern themselves not only with the bottom line, but also with the greater public good. Law firm practice today is experiencing profound changes and enormous pressures. Therefore, it is essential that pro bono supporters, without abandoning the moral principles at the heart of pro bono service, be able to identify those elements of pro bono practice that result in positive benefits for the law firm, its attorneys, clients and communities served. These benefits support a hard-headed business rationale for pro bono work. While some of the benefits are relatively easy to quantify, others are not. Some pluses resulting from a firm culture that is supportive of pro bono will be immediately apparent; other beneficial results will become known only with the passage of time. But it is clear that investment in pro bono can and will, in the long term, strengthen a firm’s ability to attract and serve its commercial clients. In a 1995 study of the relationship between economic performance and pro bono activity at large law firms [1], Marc Galanter and Thomas Palay, professors of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, used data on firm finances and pro bono scores of the nation’s largest 100 law firms published in The American Lawyer between 1990 and 1993 to analyze the connection between these two measures. While the sample of firms studied was relatively limited (involving 59 law firms), the study results are notable. Galanter and Palay found that pro bono at these high-producing firms increased substantially between 1990 and 1993. Total pro bono hours increased 45 percent, while average hours per attorney increased almost one-third. The number of attorneys at major law firms reporting 20 or more hours of pro bono time increased by almost 60 percent over the period of the study, and the percentage of attorneys at the firms reporting 20 hours or more increased by 34 percent. DOING WELL BY DOING GOOD In looking at the intersect between law firm pro bono activity and measures of economic performance and growth, including gross revenues, profits per partner and estimated profit margin, the authors found that “the data suggest that the larger the firm and the greater its gross revenues the more willing it will be to encourage or permit pro bono activity.” Unfortunately, Galanter and Palay have not produced an updated version of their analysis.[2] However, even a cursory examination of information included in 1998 firm performance, as reported in the July 1999 issue of The American Lawyer, appears to reaffirm the conclusions of the Galanter/Palay study. According to that information, lawyers at the nation’s most profitable and largest law firms, on average, donated 40.8 hours of pro bono service during 1998. And the approximately 90 law firms on the AmLaw 100 list that reported their pro bono hours, in total, contributed almost 1.6 million hours of pro bono time or the equivalent of almost 900 full-time advocates. Even for pro bono supporters, the results of the Galanter/Palay study may be surprising. It has been generally assumed that pro bono service is a financial drain on law firms. In his seminal 1997 article on the economics of pro bono work, Jack Londen of San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster makes a compelling case for pro bono work as, at worse, a marginal expense for law firms.[3] More typically, he argues, even the strongest and most expansive law firm pro bono programs are either revenue neutral or, potentially, even a revenue enhancer. Londen’s argument, which is consistent with the Galanter/Palay research, is threefold: � The customary measure of the economic impact of pro bono work — the amount of revenue that the pro bono hours would have generated — is not a valid measure. � Even when properly measured as a cost item rather than a revenue drain, the true cost of a pro bono program comprises a much smaller fraction of a firm’s budget than a superficial analysis might suggest. � The indirect effects of a pro bono program can have a positive impact on revenues by enhancing and supporting firm goals and activities that create a competitive edge for law firms. Londen’s arguments echo the findings of a 1998 study [4] that charted the growing commitment of major corporations to volunteer and community service programs. Corporations, in that study, reported that they support volunteer efforts, not only because they view themselves as stakeholders in their communities, but also because they address important business goals, including attracting and keeping a quality work force and improving their image and appeal with consumers of their goods and services. In an environment in which the competition for legal talent is fierce, firms that support effective pro bono programs enjoy a competitive advantage. Although there have been no national surveys to date of changes in attitudes among younger lawyers, anecdotal information and related developments, such as the increase in law school public service projects and the growth of fellowship and rotation programs, confirm the heightened interest in pro bono among the younger generation of attorneys. RECRUITING THE IDEALISTIC As firm compensation hikes are quickly matched by other firms, factors other than pay — including quality-of-life issues, effective mentoring and supervision programs, and expanded pro bono opportunities — often become the deciding factors for top-tier graduates in choosing among firms. For more senior attorneys, while business considerations undoubtedly play a larger role, the ability to do pro bono work can also be an important factor in selecting a firm. Mobility has become the rule among lawyers at all levels of seniority at larger law firms. A recent survey reported that associate attrition rates range from “just under 10 percent for first year attorneys up to 81 percent for associates in their eighth year.” [5] Costs associated with the failure to retain effective lawyers represent the single greatest nonproductive personnel expense incurred by law firms. The decision to leave a law firm, of course, is often based on many factors. For many lawyers, however, dissatisfaction with the atmosphere and workload at the firm, and a sense of being an anonymous cog in a very large mechanism, are key elements of the determination to move elsewhere. A strong pro bono culture can contribute greatly to a sense of the firm as a unique place, one that embraces the individuality of its partners and employees, provides effective mentoring and oversight, and stimulates teamwork in support of the needs of the larger community. New York’s Shearman & Sterling has recognized this by including paid leave to undertake full-time pro bono work as one of the longevity incentives it provides to senior associates. For partners, strong firm support for pro bono as a part of the day-to-day work of all lawyers at the firm, regardless of seniority or prominence, also reinforces their loyalty to the firm. HIGH QUALITY SKILLS AT LOW COST One of the chief complaints expressed by many junior attorneys in larger law firms is the lack of opportunity to develop the skills and expertise needed to advance. Greater demands on partner time and the growing unwillingness of corporate clients to pay for associate training and apprenticeship have all but eliminated the informal “second chair” training experiences enjoyed by associates in the past. In “The Effective Associate Training Program: Improving Firm Performance, Profitability and Prospective Partners,” which was published by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Continuing Education of the Bar[6], the lack of effective training and professional development opportunities are identified as directly responsible for unproductive or unsatisfactory performance that leads to excessive write-offs, partner frustration and inefficiency, low associate morale, client dissatisfaction and costly turnover. Using carefully selected pro bono opportunities as a training vehicle enables law firms to provide a wide variety of high-quality skills training at a very low cost. In addition, since younger lawyers are typically afforded greater autonomy in pro bono matters, they also offer meaningful work experience and accelerated professional development opportunities that benefit both the individual attorney and the firm. In addressing the skill sets necessary for large-firm lawyers — both business lawyers and litigators — it is apparent that many pro bono engagements offer the opportunity for in-depth, on-the-job skills training. For example, the average landlord/tenant matter is likely to involve diagnosis, factual and legal research, discovery, witness preparation, statutory interpretation, negotiation, drafting pleadings, trial preparation, and trial advocacy. Pro bono matters also enable attorneys to exercise skills and judgment far more independently and at an earlier stage than comparable work for commercial clients. Many associates report dissatisfaction with the gap between the level and type of work they are actually assigned and the experience and expertise they are required to demonstrate to advance in the firm. In pro bono matters, younger lawyers are actually able to try cases, to work personally with a client board of directors and to handle appeals (with appropriate supervision). A number of firms are integrating their training and pro bono functions. Chicago’s Mayer, Brown & Platt, for example, recently hired a seasoned law school clinician/public interest lawyer to oversee both the firm’s pro bono program and its clinical skill training efforts, as has Philadelphia’s Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen. At other firms, the pro bono leadership works closely with the firm’s training committee and staff, so that each facet of the firm’s operations supports the other. Because of the nature of pro bono work, it offers the opportunity for far more effective evaluation of the skills and maturity of young associates. Evaluation based solely on associates’ commercial practice will provide insight into some skills and abilities — such as drafting and a commitment to hard work — but might not enable the firm to fully assess the associates’ communication skills, abilities as advocates and negotiators, maturity, ability to work effectively with clients and to deal with opposing counsel, judges and juries. For this reason, as well as to provide greater visibility to pro bono work, a number of law firms now explicitly include reviews of work undertaken in pro bono matters as a critical part of the evaluation process. INSTILLING PRIDE AND LOYALTY Today’s major law firms are particularly prone to fragmentation and isolation due to the pace of growth and change; their size; the complexity of firm structure, including specialty units and growing numbers of geographically distanced offices; and unintended consequences of technology that can isolate attorneys. Pro bono, however, can be the glue that holds the firm together. Pro bono matters offer the opportunity for lawyers — and other staff — who would otherwise hardly even know each other — to work together as a team for a greater good. Firm-sponsored clinics and pro bono recognition events, whether humorous or formal, offer opportunities for social interaction and good will. Victory memos and annual reports instill a sense of pride and an appreciation for the difference that the firm, as an institution, is making and for the quality of its people. Compared with firm brochures, press releases, advertisements and similar vehicles, pro bono-related publicity is less likely to be viewed as self-serving. Even though law firms may consciously place stories about pro bono achievements, the very nature of the work involved makes the stories more credible. In addition, in many instances, publicity about a pro bono matter is generated by a public interest group involved by the matter or attracts media interest because of the issue involved. Such placements are viewed as inherently more credible than paid advertisements. Even the most interesting and important commercial work undertaken by law firms is unlikely to receive broad coverage and publicity beyond the legal media. Major pro bono matters, or smaller cases with great human interest, are far more likely to receive extensive coverage. Moreover, pro bono work can add a new dimension to a firm’s relationship with a corporate client. An increasing number of law firms jointly undertake pro bono work in conjunction with the legal departments of corporate clients. Some corporate-client relationships these days are fraught with tension and uncertainty, as clients transfer business, aggressively bid work out, negotiate for reduced rates, pare down the list of firms with which they work and closely scrutinize and question bills. Joint pro bono ventures offer an opportunity to interact socially and professionally with clients on matters of common concern outside the commercial arena. Since firms, for the most part, are far more experienced in the substantive law and venues involved in pro bono work, these joint ventures offer a subtle but effective opportunity for law firms to demonstrate their skills and capacities. In addition, jointly sponsored clinics and clients are an opportunity for teamwork that can lead to closer personal and professional relationships. In restructuring to achieve greater efficiencies, productivity and profitability, larger law firms have often looked to the corporate community for examples of good business practices. An analysis of the benefits of pro bono in the law firm context, as well as the greatly enhanced commitments by corporations to voluntarism, reinforces the argument that pro bono is not only right, it is, indeed, good for business. [1] Robert A. Katzmann, ed., “The Law Firm and the Public Good” (1995), available from The Brookings Institution at [2] The Law Firm Pro Bono Project would enthusiastically welcome volunteers with statistical expertise to undertake a comparable analysis of more current data on pro bono and profitability, as well as a longitudinal study of major law firm performance. [3] “The Economics of Pro Bono Work, Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge Signatories Update,” Issue 15, Summer 1997 at p. 1 (available at [4] “Corporate Volunteer Programs: Benefits to Business, The Conference Board,” April 1998, available online at [5] Gregory J. Mazares, “Associate Retention for Law Firms,” Law Practice Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 1 (February 2000) at p. 6. [6] See Lardent is president of Georgetown University Law Center’s Pro Bono Institute, a national policy, technical assistance, research and advocacy group focused on improving access to justice.

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