More than half of all American lawyers perform free pro bono services for clients who cannot afford to hire an attorney, according to a nationwide ABA survey released in 2018.
The survey of 47,000 lawyers in 24 states revealed that 52% provided pro bono services in the previous year, with the average lawyer working 37 hours. Some lawyers provide much more pro bono work. According to the survey, 9% provided 50 to 79 hours of pro bono work, and 11% provided more than 80 hours.
The ABA recommends that all lawyers perform at least 50 hours a year of pro bono services “to those unable to pay.” Approximately 20% of all lawyers meet this aspirational goal, according to the survey. This is down from 36% in the last survey, released in 2013.
The survey shows that 48% of lawyers did no pro bono work in the previous year, and 19% said they have never done pro bono work.
The average hours worked fluctuates year by year, with no apparent trend. It was 39 hours in 2005, 41 hours in 2009, 56 hours in 2013 and 37 hours in 2018. Older lawyers – age 70 to 74 – perform the most hours (58 per year). Solo practitioners and lawyers from large firms and very large firms provide the most pro bono hours (45 hours, 48 hours and 73 hours, respectively).
• Lawyers generally do more pro bono work later in life. On average, lawyers in their 60s did 41 to 42 hours of pro bono work per year.
• 81% of attorneys believe pro bono work is somewhat or very important.