Business & Practice

Older Attorneys Put in More Pro Bono Hours, Report Shows

May 7, 2018, 11:04 AM

Older attorneys work more pro bono hours than younger ones and larger law firms make it easier to do, an American Bar Association report found.

This finding was surprising but it makes sense, pro bono counsel at two large law firms told Bloomberg Law.

Supporting Justice: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyer” compiled survey answers from more than 47,000 attorneys in 24 states about their pro bono work in 2016.

The report’s results, released in April, also confirmed the experience of pro bono veterans that large law firms make it easier for attorneys to do pro bono.

Showing Your Age

The older/younger divide was unexpected because “I see a lot of activity and interest from associates at larger law firms,” Brenna K. DeVaney, director of pro bono programs at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Chicago, told Bloomberg Law.

But it makes sense that more senior and retired attorneys have more capacity to do volunteer work or oversee pro bono cases, DeVaney said.

Attorneys ages 70 to 74 did an average of 58 hours of pro bono in 2016, and those 55 to 69 averaged in the low 40s, the report said. Attorneys 30 to 49 were in the low 30s for pro bono hours.

Many attorneys in their 70s are retired “and have chosen to dedicate much of their time to pro bono work,” the report said.

The findings are contrary to Steven H. Schulman‘s 20 years of experience in the pro bono field. He’s pro bono partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington.

Younger attorneys at Akin outperform older attorneys two to one when it comes to pro bono hours, he said. He guesses this is because they don’t have the same family or outside obligations.

Reasons the report cited for not doing pro bono included lack of time, commitment to family, or lack of skills in specific practice areas.

Large Firm Luxury

But Schulman and DeVaney stressed their experience is from a big-law vantage and this might be different for those at smaller firms.

In fact, attorneys at large firms did more pro bono than those at smaller ones, the report said.

Those at firms with more than 300 attorneys did an average of 72.8 pro bono hours in 2016. The number dropped to 41.8 for firms with 101 to 300 attorneys.

This is because big firms often have the capabilities and resources to make pro bono work accessible and manageable, DeVaney said.

Pro bono departments are like mini firms within law firms that handle the process from start to finish, Anthony Perez Cassino, the assistant director of public service at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, told Bloomberg Law in October.

They find clients, do conflicts checks, set up training, and keep track of the hours worked, Cassino said.

Large firms have the infrastructure and support to make it happen while small firms have to sacrifice a lot more to do pro bono, Schulman said.

Schulman and DeVaney agree that the report’s most “encouraging” and important finding is that 81 percent of attorneys have provided pro bono services at some point in their lives.

“If you’re not doing it, you’re not doing what most attorneys are doing,” DeVaney said.

But there’s still “an unacceptable access to justice gap” and more needs to be done, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com

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