In 2001, the District of Columbia Bar Pro Bono Committee established the Pro Bono Initiative (PBI) to encourage D.C.’s largest law firms to increase their pro bono activities. Law firms participating in the PBI agreed to provide pro bono legal services at specified levels and to report their progress annually. At its inception, 41 law firms signed on to the PBI which number grew to 64 firms following a D.C. Bar campaign to attract additional firms.
A report issued by the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Committee on a 2009 survey of the PBI law firms contained information on various firms’ pro bono activities, including how they budget for pro bono, training, pro bono requirements, etc. One interesting highlight of the report was that, on average, the 53 firms which had pledged to have pro bono hours account for 3.2 percent of billable hours actually contributed 5.5 percent.
The D.C. Bar Report published the survey data without drawing specific conclusions. However, it is noteworthy that, when firms committed to providing a specified level of pro bono services, they often not only met their commitment, but exceeded it. This result merits consideration in jurisdictions where debates are underway as to the wisdom of requiring attorneys to provide specified levels of pro bono services.
Patricia N Blair
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee