Weil Gotshal’s new pro bono regime sets legal benchmark

Weil Gotshal & Manges is to increase its lawyers’ minimum pro bono contribution to 50 hours per year. It has also relaunched its pro bono strategy in an attempt to change “the worldwide pro bono model that law firms use”.

The firm’s new policy stipulates that every incoming lawyer, from first year associates to ‘prominent’ partners, take on at least one pro bono matter during their first two years at the firm, as well as obliging its lawyers to undertake the new minimum amount. The expectation is that every partner will undertake or supervise at least one pro bono matter every year.

“Pre-eminence in pro bono is key to achieving Weil Gotshal’s goal to be not just a great law firm, but a great institution,” says Steven Reiss, chairman of the firm’s pro bono committee. “That means having a stellar pro bono programme woven into the fabric of our firm so that it is integral to our institutional identity and the way we define success.”

The firm believes that it is highly unusual – “maybe even a first” – to require that every incoming lawyer take on at least one pro bono matter during their first two years.

According to Weil Gotshal, the number of hours devoted to pro bono increased by 60 per cent during the past year, which meant that the firm is now ranked on The American Lawyer’s ‘A-list’. Now the firm is determined to “push the envelope” by setting a guide for its lawyers.

Weil Gotshal has hired Miriam Buhl, as a dedicated pro bono counsel. Buhl is a former state director for the New York chapter of March of Dimes, a group that campaigns to improve the health of babies, and executive director of the New York Women’s Foundation. Buhl will be responsible for the development of relationships with non-profit institutions. The firm claims that “her focus on institutional pro bono relationships is an industry first among law firms”.

“It’s a real step-change in the way in which a major law firm is dealing with this issue,” says Nick Flynn, an associate in the firm’s London office. “She is there to embed our relationships with other institutions in the charity and pro bono field and, rather like a partner who is head of corporate or head of banking, she is there with responsibility for setting the strategy and targets for pro bono.”

Buhl says that she is “very receptive” to pro bono ideas coming from this side of the Atlantic.

Reiss says: “Developing our new policy and hiring Miriam were important steps in a larger endeavour to make the firm’s pro bono work a model for the profession. The long-term goal of our new pro bono policy is to set a standard that other firms can emulate.”