For the past several years, a large silver cup known as the Weil Cup has been on display at the Houston office of New York-based Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

The Weil Cup, which the firm instituted in 2006, honors the firm’s office that has the highest combined score based on average pro bono hours per attorney and percentage of individuals who perform more than 20 hours of pro bono a year, says partner Sylvia Mayer, chairwoman of the pro bono committee at Weil, Gotshal’s Houston office who serves on the firmwide pro bono committee.

Mayer says the Houston office won the competition in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011, and lawyers in the firm’s Dallas office also did a substantial amount of pro bono work in 2011.

This year, Mayer received the firm’s first Weil Candy Cup — a crystal cup with candy in it — for her 2011 pro bono service, which honors an attorney for “extraordinary dedication to pro bono and recruiting others to participate in pro bono,” she says.

Mayer says Weil, Gotshal is strongly committed to pro bono work. Lawyers at its two Texas offices each donated an average of 70 pro bono hours in 2011, more than the number recommended by the State Bar of Texas and the American Bar Association.

Lawyers in the Texas offices of Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski and Dallas-based Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld also donated more than 50 hours of pro bono work on average in 2011 — 115 and 86 hours respectively — according to information provided by the firms.

Texas Lawyer invited the 25 firms with the largest operations in Texas to share 2011 pro bono data. Eighteen of the firms provided information for their Texas offices. [See related chart, below.]

Despite having fewer average full-time equivalent lawyers in 2011 compared to 2010, the 18 firms sharing pro bono information for their Texas lawyers donated more hours than the previous year — 175,265 pro bono hours in 2011 versus 168,761 at the same firms in 2010. The firms had a total 4,600 lawyers in 2011 and 4,818 lawyers in 2010. Also, the average pro bono hours donated per lawyer at the firms increased to 38 hours last year compared to 35 hours per lawyer in 2010.

Nationally, in 2011 average hours at the 169 large firms that participated in The American Lawyer‘sAmLaw 200 pro bono survey declined to 54.3, a 2.2 percent drop compared to 56.5 for the firms that participated in the pro bono survey in 2010. The percentage of lawyers who did more than 20 hours of pro bono in 2011 fell to 43.5 percent, down 3.5 percent compared to 45.1 percent in 2010.

Good Deed Doers

Mayer says each Weil, Gotshal office challenges the others to do the most. Each year, lawyers in all of the firm’s offices participate in a video conference over lunch to talk about pro bono work done the previous year.

“It’s always exciting to see the firm put a spotlight on pro bono matters,” she says.

In Houston, Mayer says Weil, Gotshal lawyers participate in the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program, taking divorce, guardianship, and trust-and-estate matters for low-income individuals. They also help staff legal-aid clinics throughout the year, including a “will-a-thon,” she says.

The other primary pro bono area is asylum work referred by groups such as Catholic Charities and Tahirih Justice Center, she says.

Glenn West, managing partner of Weil, Gotshal’s Dallas office, notes that lawyers and staff in the Houston and Dallas offices do charitable work that doesn’t fall under the pro bono umbrella. For instance, the firm announced on July 17 that the Houston and Dallas offices are among several Weil, Gotshal offices participating in a philanthropic initiative inspired by the 2000 book “Pay It Forward.” The program calls for each office to use $1,000 in seed money to provide a lasting gift to a few charities.

“This is intended to be more than just raising a few dollars, but an attempt to get something going that will be long-lasting,” West says.

Over the past decade, Fulbright has tried to develop more opportunities for all lawyers to do pro bono work, says Stewart Gagnon, a Dallas partner who heads the firm’s pro bono committee.

“Some people may not feel comfortable trying a divorce case, but they may feel real comfortable advising on deed restrictions or helping clear up title after a hurricane,” Gagnon says.

The firm helps lawyers prepare for pro bono. For example, Gagnon says the firm provides in-house training for lawyers participating in a monthly protective order clinic at the Houston Area Women’s Center in conjunction with counsel from client ExxonMobil.

Akin Gump’s Texas lawyers donated an average of 86 hours each in 2011. “The nice thing, even through the recession, is that we’ve been very consistent, between 81 and 86 hours,” says Steven Schulman, a partner in Washington, D.C., who heads the pro bono practice.

The average annual commitment to pro bono work has grown from about 30 hours per lawyer to more than 80 hours per lawyer since Schulman joined the firm in 2006. “We’ve broadened our portfolio of opportunities,” he says. “It’s not just call-in clinics, not just immigration, but a broad spectrum of work.”

No single matter in 2011 accounts for Akin Gump’s high average number of pro bono hours, he says. The firm’s Texas lawyers worked with Texas Appleseed on payday lending reform, he says. Texas lawyers also created a medical legal partnership in 2011 with the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, and the firm’s Texas lawyers worked with the Knowledge Is Power Program, a chain of charter public schools, he says.

In terms of a lawyer’s productivity, pro bono hours are considered equal to billable hours, Schulman says. “The way that we view it is that our pro bono clients are clients to the firm,” he says.

Seven of the 25 firms with the largest operations in Texas did not provide pro bono statistics. Andrews Kurth and Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons did not respond to requests for information, and McKool Smith declines to provide information. K&L Gates no longer breaks out pro bono statistics regionally, says spokesman Mike Rick.

While pro bono hours count toward associates’ billable requirements at Greenberg Traurig, the firm declines to provide statistics for its Texas offices. In a written statement, Doug Atnipp, co-regional operating shareholder for Greenberg Traurig’s Texas region, writes that the firm “encourages and supports” pro bono work and the lawyers in the firm’s Houston, Dallas and Austin offices do “many and varied” pro bono matters.

Looper, Reed & McGraw does not tally all of the pro bono work its attorneys handle each year, even though associates are encouraged to meet the 50-hour level, says Michael Blachly, director of client development at the firm.

“We don’t have a good system for tracking our pro bono hours now,” he says, noting that non-equity partners are not required to report their pro bono hours.

Glenn Callison, chairman and chief executive officer of Munsch, Hardt, says the firm encourages lawyers to do pro bono work, and the firm factors it in when making compensation decisions. However, lawyers are not given billable-hour credit for pro bono.

“How do you reconcile the whole concept of pro bono with the practice that’s developed of giving billable-hour credit for the whole thing?” Callison asks.

 

Pro Bono Hours at Texas’ Largest Firms
Firm 2011 Average No. of FTE Texas Attorneys 2011 Texas Pro Bono Hours 2011 Average Pro Bono Hours Per Texas Attorney 2011 No. of Texas Attorneys Performing > 20 Hours Do Hours Count Toward Associates’ Billable-Hour Requirements?
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld 174 15,006 86 113 yes
Baker Botts 416 18,985 46 123 yes
Bracewell & Giuliani 294 7,047 24 81 yes
Cox Smith Matthews 131 1,481 11 14 on a case-by-case basis
Fulbright & Jaworski 481 55,137 115 246 **
Gardere Wynne Sewell 229 2,622 11 35 yes
Haynes and Boone 387 12,110 31 127 up to 100 hours
Hunton & Williams* 102 4,519 44 58 up to 50 hours
Jackson Walker 321 9,031 28 115 ***
Jones Day* 212 9,471 45 69 yes
Kelly Hart & Hallman 126 1,807 14 23 NA
King & Spalding* 104 1,504 14 27 ****
Locke Lord 327 4,892 15 66 up to 100 hours
Strasburger & Price 189 1,786 9 24 yes
Thompson & Knight 254 3,281 13 55 yes
Vinson & Elkins 490 16,075 33 220 yes
Weil, Gotshal & Manges* 116 8,111 70 79 *****
Winstead 247 2,400 10 35 *****
Note: The firms above are among Texas’ 25 largest as listed on Texas Lawyer’s April 30 The Texas 100 poster. Chart information is for pro bono performed by attorneys in the firms’ Texas offices only. Attorney counts are an average full-time equivalent for the firm’s Texas offices during 2011. Seven firms did not provide pro bono data: Andrews Kurth; Greenberg Traurig; K&L Gates; Looper Reed & McGraw; McKool Smith; Munsch, Hardt, Kopf & Harr and Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons.
* Firm not based in Texas.
** Up to 100 pro bono hours count toward productivity bonus.
*** Pro bono hours count toward firm’s citizenship requirements and for bonus eligibility.
**** Firm does not have billable requirements for associates, but pro bono hours count toward a productivity bonus.
***** Firm does not have billable requirements for associates, but pro bono hours count toward overall evaluation.
NA = not applicable. Firm does not have billable requirements for associates.Source: the firms.
Texas Lawyer, July 2012

Pro Bono