Alexandre Vermynck
Alexandre Vermynck (Photo by Emmanuel Fradin)

Jenner & Block leads a strong field in The American Lawyer’s 24th survey of U.S. pro bono work, while Arnold & Porter paces a weak field in The American Lawyer’s first survey of non-U.S. pro bono efforts.

For close to a quarter-century, our July issue has given a collective pat on the back to lawyers who honor the profession’s highest ideals, and an occasional kick in the rear to those who don’t. But up until now, we only tracked pro bono colored red, white & blue.

Parochialism didn’t matter in 1990, when non-U.S. lawyers were a rounding error. But overseas attorneys have since grown like kudzu, and now form a full 28 percent of The Am Law 100. Not demanding pro bono from the Am Law 100 lawyers who live outside the United States makes about as much sense as giving a free pass to every New York and Ohio lawyer in The National Law Journal 350. Both sets number over 26,500.

The most progressive firms recognize that professional duties don’t stop at American shores, and a universal moral code calls for a universal policy code. This year, Dechert became the first firm to impose a pro bono minimum (25 hours per lawyer) worldwide. “Our commitment to pro bono is global in nature,” says Dechert pro bono chair Suzanne Turner. “One firm, one commitment, one policy.”

Domestic pro bono continues at an impressively high level, with U.S. lawyers at Am Law 200 firms that responded to our annual pro bono survey averaging near 55 hours each. That’s up 2 percent over last year. Fifteen firms passed 100 pro bono hours per lawyer. And Jenner & Block lodged the highest pro bono hour average in 20 years with 175. That’s a month of save-the-world work for every lawyer in the firm.

To accomplish that feat, Jenner’s pro bono leaders buttonholed everyone from new partners to firm chair Anton Valukas. “It doesn’t take a lot of cajoling, because everybody buys in at Jenner,” says pro bono cochair Jeffrey Koppy.

The Am Law 200′s pro bono workhorse’s workhorse was Jenner Illinois partner Reena Bajowala, who logged 1,550 hours to stop the city of Joliet from using eminent domain as an end run around the Fair Housing Act. After 95 days of trial, she struck a settlement that should preserve fair housing for hundreds of low-income residents. In other highlights, Jenner won a certificate of innocence for a Chicago mother who was falsely convicted of strangling her 4-year-old son after the judge excluded testimony that he’d been playing Spiderman with an elastic band from a fitted sheet. And in Rwanda, Jenner helped to develop a solar power plant that, aside from solar power, will provide education, housing and job training to 500 orphans of genocide.

The Rwanda solar deal broadly illustrates the globalization of pro bono, which we’ve documented previously. The trend was confirmed this spring by TrustLaw’s inaugural Index of Pro Bono, which counted all pro bono hours from 103 firms of all sizes in 69 nations, including the U.S. “The growth of pro bono in every country around the world from Nepal to Botswana is changing societies for the better,” says TrustLaw founder and Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Monique Villa. However, the TrustLaw index counts anything done on the globe as global, even if it’s all about Detroit. And the Rwanda deal shows that even work with an authentic global flavor is often done by U.S. attorneys, as Jenner is 100 percent stateside.

The emergence of non-U.S. pro bono proper is underway too—but its emergence is uneven, and is obscured by the absence of data, or by its elision with U.S. pro bono. The American Lawyer survey of global pro bono fills this gap in knowledge. This new survey is concerned strictly with hours performed by lawyers who are based beyond American borders. If our old survey of U.S pro bono maps the pro bono heartland, our new one maps its frontier.

Over time, it will show which global law firms are serious about pro bono by lawyers outside the U.S., and which are not. The survey’s first phase, published here, covers the 77 Am Law 200 firms that field at least 20 lawyers outside the U.S. The second phase, to be published in October, will encompass the non-U.S. firms on the Global 100, The American Lawyer’s annual list of the world’s largest law firms.

The head-and-shoulders leader of the global survey is Arnold & Porter, which is alone in achieving numbers that would look stellar even in U.S. circles, with 103 pro bono hours per non-U.S. lawyer, and 93 percent of that group reaching 20 hours. Spread between London and Brussels, Arnold & Porter’s overseas lawyers do both work for individual clients, such as advocating for special needs children in schools, and broader advocacy, such as fighting for transgender rights in court. Placing second in this year’s U.S. survey, Arnold & Porter encourages all lawyers to devote an off-the-charts 15 percent of their time to pro bono. “The message we send is clear,” says longtime pro bono chair Philip Horton. “The same rules apply worldwide.”

Such stratospheric scores may be unrealistic for all firms with foreign lawyers. But half of the 20 top-ranked firms on the international pro bono chart have at least 200 foreign lawyers, including such megafirms as Reed Smith and DLA Piper. These results show that it is possible for a large firm to achieve in the range of 20 to 40 pro bono hours per non-U.S. lawyer, with 20 to 50 percent notching 20-plus hours. Over time, the standards of respectability will rise. Latham & Watkins is the highest-scoring of the biggest firms, with 745 lawyers in 21 foreign offices averaging 36 pro bono hours apiece. “The values that drive pro bono are universal, and our attorneys across the world are really drawn to this work,” says Latham public service counsel Wendy Atrokhov. “But pro bono growth outside the U.S. doesn’t happen on its own.”

Historically, she says, the main obstacle to global pro bono was an empty pipeline. Many countries have less need for individual pro bono than the U.S. because they give greater public support to legal services, and some place regulatory barriers in the way of individual representation. But where there is a lesser need for individual pro bono, there is often a greater need for systemic pro bono. Several respected networks have sprouted up to match the legal needs of global or foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with law firms, following the leadership of PILnet in Europe and China, the Vance Center for International Justice in the Americas, and TrustLaw around the world. “Clearinghouses are a complete game changer,” says Atrokhov. While Latham has long encouraged 60 hours of pro bono service in the U.S., it only began to promote that goal worldwide in recent years, as it became feasible.

Weil, Gotshal & Manges, which also scored well for a sizable firm, shows how global NGOs play a crucial role in pro bono’s spread. Its London office works with the Legal Response Initiative to advise the world’s least developed countries in global climate negotiations, and works with Britain’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children on an app, called “ZipIt,” that helps teenage girls defuse the pressure to send sexually explicit text messages. But Weil also defends individual clients where needed. Last year, asso­ciate Alexandre Vermynck served in the prestigious role of First Secretary to the Paris Bar’s Conference des Avocats. He won the honor, with 11 others, by delivering a series of extemporaneous speeches on topics like “Is pleasure guilty?” Weil then underwrote an intense year of public trial work for Vermynck, highlighted by the criminal defense of a Frenchman who filmed a jihadi video in Timbuktu.

A common thread among the pacesetters of global pro bono is active management, both local and central. “Pro bono is a question of leadership from the top and on the ground,” says Horton. There is a lawyer from every office on the pro bono committees at Dechert and Arnold & Porter, and from nearly every office at Latham. Weil’s committee, cochaired by London’s Peter King, includes senior partners from most branches. “Infrastructure matters,” says Weil pro bono counsel Miriam Buhl. “There needs to be a system in place for every [office] to take pro bono seriously.” All four firms count pro bono in evaluations to set compensation. And all four firms track pro bono by location. “That’s been huge from a management standpoint,” says Atrokhov.

But the dropoff from the top of the charts is sharp. On average, the overseas numbers are as skimpy as a European bikini. The typical non-U.S. lawyer does less than a third as much pro bono as his or her Yankee colleagues—17 pro bono hours for non-U.S. lawyers compared with 62 pro bono hours for U.S. lawyers at responding firms in The Am Law 100. (For full survey results see the charts beginning on page 56.)

The discrepancy is even worse at some of the best U.S. pro bono firms. U.S.-based lawyers at Ropes & Gray do an average of 102 hours of pro bono work, while lawyers outside the U.S. do three. At Shearman & Sterling, which pioneered the U.S. pro bono hours mandate, 83 percent of U.S. lawyers exceed 20 pro bono hours, versus 4 percent abroad.

Ropes & Gray pro bono director Rosalyn Garbose Nasdor responded by email that “we are just in the beginning stages of building our global pro bono profile,” citing the firm’s London work with The Nature Conservancy.

“You can choose not to respond and be on the naughty list, but we believe in pro bono,” Shearman pro bono director Saralyn Cohen said. “Not every firm has a Brazil office, where pro bono is basically illegal—but that’s my ladder to climb. Do we want to have higher numbers? Absolutely. The way I look at it is, I have a whole world of untapped potential.”

A Shearman spokesperson noted that pro bono was under pressure last year because the firm was busy boosting revenues by 9 percent, while head count dipped 4 percent. Even so, Shearman’s U.S. lawyers found the time for both profit and good deeds.

Mayer Brown reported mediocre numbers in part because of a big Asian presence. Pro bono director Marc Kadish noted that although his Hong Kong lawyers are at the forefront of building a local pro bono culture, that movement is inchoate, and there is an element of unfairness in comparing firms with different regional patterns. It’s inarguable that firms spread beyond London have a tougher challenge. Yet Weil has a similar footprint to Shearman, and Latham managed to perform well despite nine offices in Asia or the Mideast.

Our global pro bono survey launches with a response rate of 61 percent, based on 47 of 77 eligible firms responding. By comparison, the first U.S. pro bono survey achieved a 66 percent response rate. Participation in the domestic survey has since risen to 85.5 percent. Some of the original U.S. pro bono C-students—like Dechert, Latham, and McDermott, Will & Emery—have become perennial stars.

The pro bono no-shows are led by a trio of Am Law 100 firms—Baker & McKenzie, Dentons and Hogan Lovells—which together field 6,600 non-U.S. lawyers. That’s a lot of potential good unmeasured. Baker & McKenzie managing partner Philip Suse, who also chairs global pro bono, lauded the “globalization of pro bono,” and cited headline projects, from Vietnamese legal reform to mobile phone health care, that are as praiseworthy as anything being done in the world. But the toughest part of global pro bono is to spread a culture of commitment to every lawyer. Suse wrote that his firm is “committed to applying our legal knowledge and passion to advance fundamental rights and opportunities for persons in need throughout the world.” Our survey is meant to spur firms to develop metrics to help execute those ideals.

PILnet’s Edwin Rekosh warns against drawing hard and fast conclusions from soft data in an unformed field. Even so, he says, “Asking for data and systems that haven’t been built yet is a good thing because it encourages the building of systems.” While taking the initial results with a big grain of salt, Rekosh says he expects the survey to help expand access to justice.

Esther Lardent of the Pro Bono Institute, based in Washington, D.C., worries that she has no counterpart to ensure the consistent definition and enforcement of global pro bono standards. For all its flaws, The American Lawyer’s original pro bono survey spurred positive change during the five years before the Pro Bono Institute was founded in 1995.

Elite attorneys are competitors, and they are accustomed to better grades. The global pro bono F-students feature seven members of the 2014 A-List or last year’s “10-Year A-List,” which are our broadest measures of excellence. Any firm that wishes to make future honor rolls had better buckle down. Our plan for the future is to blend each firm’s non-U.S. pro bono score with its domestic pro bono score (making adjustments to ensure that firms that are more global or less so are not penalized). The composite score will be counted in the A-List. Our task is to rank the world’s leading law firms by every metric of excellence, so that they measure up wherever they go.