Paying It Forward: One-Third of Lawyers Report Increased Pro Bono Work

Thanksgiving is celebrated tomorrow here in the U.S. It's a time when many people reflect on the positive aspects of their lives and often make charitable contributions to help those who are in need. In the legal profession, pro bono service is recognized as a year-round program of "paying it forward." One-third (33 percent) of lawyers interviewed by Robert Half Legal said the number of hours they work on a volunteer basis has risen over the past five years.

45 percent of lawyers said they dedicate 50 or more hours of their time each year to pro bono service. The average number of pro bono hours reported was 56.

“Helping others” was overwhelmingly cited by lawyers as the greatest benefit of pro bono work, followed by “developing skills or legal expertise” and “enhancing professional reputation or career,” the research found.

Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal, notes that while many lawyers provide legal services on a volunteer basis for goodwill, establishing a formal pro bono program within a law firm can yield added benefits. “Pro bono work not only boosts associates’ morale and enhances the development of important skills, it also can help improve a firm’s reputation within the community and increase its ability to attract clients and prospective associates,” he adds.

Lawyers were asked, “Has the number of hours you work on a pro bono or volunteer basis increased or decreased in the last five years?” Their responses:

Significantly increased


Slightly increased


Slightly decreased


Significantly decreased


Neither increased nor






Lawyers were also asked, “On average, how many hours each year do you work on a pro bono or volunteer basis?” Their responses:*

Less than 10 hours


10-19 hours


20-39 hours


40-49 hours


50-79 hours


80-99 hours


100-199 hours


200+ hours


Don’t know/no answer


*The average, or mean, response was 56 hours.


The survey was developed by Robert Half Legal and conducted by an independent research firm. It is based on 350 telephone interviews with lawyers at law firms and companies in the United States and Canada.