The media’s initial take on the recently published statistics detailing the 2010 pro bono performance of major law firms is striking: The Wall Street Journal Law Blog said “charity was … in short supply”; the pro bono environment was described in The American Lawyer as “choppy waters”; both publications observed that firm pro bono hours “plunged,” “plummeted” and “slid.” The melodramatic headlines and fraught language are certainly eye-catching. However, this topic can benefit from additional analysis of what happened in 2010 and why, and what’s next for law firm pro bono.

The “doom and gloom” headlines overlook some important facts and figures. My organization, the Pro Bono Institute (PBI), has been tracking and analyzing law firm pro bono performance since 1995. With a wealth of detailed longitudinal data, as well as an exhaustive knowledge of firm pro bono culture and activities, PBI has the unique capacity to put the 2010 results in perspective.

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