Would you do a week’s worth of pro bono every year?

The questions that law students and junior lawyers ask in job interviews are driving pro bono practices in top City firms, writes Nicholas Glicher.

Partners in law firms have often shared with me that pro bono is used as a tool to attract the best and brightest straight out of university and that they are increasingly grilled on their pro bono commitments in interview processes.

Of course, this is anecdotal, but it gives some insight into why we started the TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono, released on 27 July. We didn’t have the hard data to benchmark pro bono globally, and until the first Index was released in 2014, we could only help lawyers understand the context in which they work through our own experience as a leading global pro bono marketplace. Responding to countless requests for advice on pro bono from China to Kenya, it became apparent to me that the growing global network of lawyers wanted a tool to help them understand how to develop a successful and high impact pro bono programme.

So what is best practice for a firm these days? Analysing the data shared from over 130 law firms, comprising over 64,500 lawyers in 75 jurisdictions, the Index found that lawyers at respondent firms undertook over 2.5 million hours of pro bono over the last year, which works out at just a fraction under 40 hours of pro bono per lawyer, per year.

Forty hours, my definition of a full working week, is a significant amount of time to devote to support non-profits, social enterprises, individuals in need and other pro bono clients. It is something the legal fraternity should be proud of.

The Index this year unearthed some fascinating findings. Not only were we able to highlight the rapid expansion of pro bono in Asia (where firms have seen a year on year growth of around 40 per cent in pro bono since the Index began), but also uncovered a significant surge in the number of firms that are working on projects and initiatives relating to immigration, refugees and asylum matters.

I was intrigued to discover that pro bono is becoming more and more sophisticated in jurisdictions that have not historically had strong traditions of pro bono. Surprisingly, China and South Africa reported higher average pro bono hours per lawyer than anywhere else, with the exception of the US. There are no doubt a number of different factors at play here – the legal sector is globalising, with more firms developing more expansive international networks every day. Clients are also increasingly requiring firms to demonstrate their social commitment as part of tendering processes. Beyond that, there is growing pressure from young lawyers who are demandNicholas Glitchering opportunities to work on socially-focused projects.

The rise of the millennial generation has led firms to use their social commitment credentials as a hook to recruit and retain the best talent, and there is great hope that this commitment will further embed a culture of pro bono within firms of all shapes and sizes.

As an advocate for the spread of pro bono to drive social change, we challenge you to be brave in interviews and question a firm’s pro bono practice – the data shows that it is working.

Nicholas Glicher is legal director at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.