The number of hours individual lawyers dedicate to pro bono work has almost halved in the past five years, new research commissioned by the Law Society has found.

Each lawyer on average now provides 15 hours of free advice a year, compared with 32 hours in 2002, according to the survey.

The findings, which polled more than 1,000 solicitors, found that 51 per cent of lawyers had conducted pro bono work within the past 12 months compared with 45 per cent five years ago.

Law Society president Andrew Holroyd said the six per cent increase in lawyers offering free services since 2002 is the key finding and that the drop in hours per solicitor is not disheartening.

“This confirms the Law Society’s perception that more solicitors are becoming involved in pro bono work,” said Holroyd. “This wider involvement also means that the pro bono workload, particularly at clinics and other regular pro bono projects, is being more evenly spread. This may well account for the fact that the number of pro bono hours per solicitor has declined.”

The survey also found that firms as a whole were doing the equivalent of £338m of pro bono work a year – around 2 per cent of the solicitor profession’s total gross fee income.

The research, which was conducted by IFF Research in September, showed that the average lawyer undertakes pro bono work that is the equivalent of £8,200 in charge-out rates per year, although one magic circle pro bono lawyer said that figure could be much higher for City lawyers.

“In the City you have lawyers who work on pro bono who can earn more than £1,000 an hour, so they’d have financially contributed more to free services than someone who didn’t work in big business,” said the lawyer. “That said, the fact more people are getting involved in offering free services is a positive, as it enhances the reputation of the profession.”

The research revealed that just a quarter of firms encourage fee-earners to conduct pro bono work, while an additional 54 per cent leave it to the discretion of the lawyer. Almost one in 10 firms discourage offering free services and 2 per cent actually prohibit it.