The 2016 edition of the TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global legal pro bono data benchmarking tool, was launched on July 27. The findings from the Index, which is designed to be a hub for information and trends in the pro bono sector, show that lawyers are consistently generous with their skills, expertise and resources.
Amongst the results, the Index unearthed two key findings:
- Lawyers devote a full working week a year to good causes; and
- The current refugee and migrant crisis has challenged legal thinking across the world.
Using pro bono data to drive social change
At the Thomson Reuters Foundation, we firmly believe that information is key to achieving social progress. Our activities are geared towards ensuring that organizations and individuals have the tools, data, connections and resources available to find answers they can trust, make informed decisions and have a positive impact on society. Now in its third year, the Index was also born of this thinking.
In order to develop a tool that analyses and compares data from around the world, we have had to create a definition of pro bono that has the flexibility and sensitivity to be relevant in all markets, from Bangkok to Bratislava, and from Paraguay to Papua New Guinea. The definition is far from perfect, but by allowing firms, independent of their location, to report information in a consistent and comparable manner, we are able to identify industry trends and evaluate the amount of pro bono performed by lawyers worldwide. This fills the current information gap in markets that have not traditionally collected data on pro bono.
By creating benchmarks across the world, the Index seeks to provide intelligence to the sector and enable firms whose activities span numerous jurisdictions to measure the relative success of their different programmes.
Pro bono is thriving
Compiled with data collected from over 130 law firms, comprising over 64,500 lawyers in 75 jurisdictions, the Index shows that pro bono globally is in fine health. Asia, in particular, has seen an unprecedented growth of 40 percent year-on-year in pro bono hours performed since 2014, challenging the general view that high levels of pro bono engagement only happen in the UK, U.S. and Australia, traditionally known as pro bono strongholds.
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. 40 hours is a working week by most measures, and is a significant amount of time to devote to support non-profits, social enterprises, individuals in need and other pro bono clients. It is an accomplishment the legal fraternity should be proud of.
Leveraging skills for impact
Lawyers and law firms have used their expertise to respond to the needs and pressures of the world around them. This year showed a significant increase in the number of legal teams lending pro bono support to initiatives relating to immigration, refugees and asylum, reflecting a response to the global refugee crisis as large populations are displaced in the Middle East, across the Sahel and elsewhere around the world.
Complex legal frameworks have made it difficult for refugees to understand their rights to reunite with family members, find work, or access shelter and clean water. Lawyers have stepped in to provide vital support – from advising refugees and asylum seekers on the ground from Greece to Thailand and beyond, to supporting organisations calling for stronger laws and policies that protect refugees and defend their rights. The skills and knowledge of the legal fraternity is having a life-changing impact on those in the direst of circumstances.
Data is king
To be able to respond to pressing challenges effectively, however, requires firms to really understand what resources they have available and how to best deploy them, which in turn calls for robust monitoring mechanisms. This is where I see the Index playing a previously unforeseen role.
Our vision is to provide benchmarking pro bono data from a wide range of jurisdictions to offer lawyers a better understanding of the global pro bono space and help firms – big and small – streamline their pro bono practices. By increasing transparency in the sector and providing targeted information, we aim to strengthen the pro bono ecosystem and help firms develop more robust pro bono programs.
Many firms are beginning to track their pro bono hours and make decisions about their pro bono efforts based on this data. Access to this information allows firms to optimize the allocation of their resources which, in turn, leads to wider engagement from lawyers and greater impact on communities. Seeing lawyers, even those in commercial practice, step up to provide invaluable pro bono support with the backing of their firms is nothing short of admirable.