Pro bono work increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, reports show
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As the National Celebration of Pro Bono comes to an end, several legal aid organizations are reporting that pro bono work actually increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as more remote volunteering opportunities became available.
The Pro Bono Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, said in the latest report on its Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge initiative that 123 firms performed a total of 5.4 million hours of pro bono work in 2020, while 127 firms reported a total of nearly 5 million hours of pro bono work in 2019.
Reuters covered the results.
According to the report, 120 firms reported nearly 3.7 million hours of service to individuals of limited means and the organizations that serve them in 2020. That represents a significant increase over 2019, when the same number of firms reported 3.3 million of their pro bono time was devoted to those of limited means.
The Pro Bono Institute also gauges individual performance, showing in its report that each attorney performed an average of 69.19 hours of pro bono work in 2020—a 15% increase over 2019.
“In the wake of such an unusual year, it is too early to draw a conclusion as to whether 2020 represents either: an enduring trend in increased pro bono engagement; or a response to extraordinary circumstances related to the pandemic, it’s impact on law firm paying work and the demand for pro bono, as well as focused efforts to pursue racial justice,” the Pro Bono Institute’s report said. “However, looking at the long-term trends over the 25-year history of the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge offers a basis for watchful optimism, while underscoring the need for continued effort to promote pro bono, vigilance and long-term, strategic thinking.”
Reuters also reported that the number of visitors to New York City-based nonprofit Pro Bono Net’s searchable list of pro bono opportunities increased from 6,000 in 2019 to more than 24,000 since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sharon Bashan, a director at OneJustice, a legal services innovation lab with offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, told the publication that the pandemic led to more remote legal services, which has become somewhat of “an equalizer.”
“COVID has shown us that an attorney from San Francisco can volunteer their time at a clinic in a rural region of California,” Bashan said.
On the local level, the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center said in an October report 65 firms that signed on to its Pro Bono Initiative performed more than 1 million pro bono hours for the first time in 2020. That was an increase of nearly 70,000 hours from 2019, when 61 firms reported a total of about 979,000 hours.
Reuters also reported that the average number of pro bono hours per attorney was 91 hours.
This week, in commemorating the National Celebration of Pro Bono, ABA President Reginald Turner highlighted the continued need for legal assistance in the post-pandemic world.
“As we look to emerge from the pandemic, access to justice for those in need is more vital than ever,” Turner said in a press release. “Millions are vulnerable to eviction, unemployment, bankruptcy and other legal challenges. The need for pro bono programs and the selfless attorneys who step up is tremendous. Together we will make a difference and recognize the power of pro bono.”
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