UK firms’ pro bono efforts put to shame by US counterparts

UK lawyers are still lagging behind their US counterparts in their commitment to pro bono work after a nationwide survey highlighted a damning lack of policies at some law firms.

The survey, led by a steering group involving the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG), representatives from the College of Law, the Manchester School of Law and BPP Law School, was originally sent out to 300 firms in the UK.

However, of those 300, only 40 firms eventually took part, with almost half of the respondents hailing from US practices. The results point to wildly varying approaches to pro bono and a definite UK-US cultural divide.

Pro bono has crept into UK firms’ consciousness slowly, with pro bono hours in many firms lagging behind those of US practices, although since 2001 there have been increases in the amount of pro bono hours.

Only half of the firms surveyed have signed up to the SPBG-led Joint Protocol for Pro Bono Legal Work, which acts as a code of good practice. Sue Bucknall, chief executive of the SPBG, said the protocol goes towards sustaining a long-term approach to pro bono work.

Meanwhile, the joint Solicitors Pro Bono Group Student Challenge Awards & Attorney General’s Institution Awards were held at the House of Lords on 24 September. The awards were presented to student Stephen Bartlet-Jones for his work for Toynbee Hall Free Legal Advice Centre, and to the College of Law for its pro bono schemes.

On the panel of judges were Cherie Booth QC, the Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP, Michael Mansfield QC, the Rt Hon Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and Matheu Swallow, deputy editor of The Lawyer and editor of Lawyer 2B.

US firms’ pro bono hours
Firm 2001 UK 2001 FW 2002 UK 2002 FW 2003 UK 2003 FW
Cleary Gottlieb 52.5 29,450.25 475 47,038.25 557 57,413
Coudert n/a n/a n/a n/a 200 n/a
Covington & Burling 905 69,035 1,233 84,572 776 71,472
Faegre & Benson 6 8,532 14 24,460 580 25,484
Hunton & Williams 82 14,248 46 15,321 352 17,691
Latham & Watkins n/a n/a 528 n/a 2,172 n/a
Milbank Tweed 0 21,823 0 14,379 0 16,278
Morrison & Foerster 171 73,500 366 101,593 547 85,961
Paul Hastings n/a 13,878 n/a 17,666 n/a 22,608
Steptoe & Johnson n/a n/a 200 18,555 375 19,860
Weil Gotshal 816 26,955 200 30,909 1,783 29,815
White & Case 1,000 34,500 2,000 39,000 2,500 43,500

(FW: Firmwwide)   Source: SPBGFirm