Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Lawyers Spend 37 Hours a Year in Pro Bono Service

pro bono A whopping 80 percent of lawyers say pro bono service is important.

And they’re not just saying it, they’re doing it. The average lawyer spends close to 37 hours a year in pro bono activities, according to the latest national figures, with older attorneys volunteering more of their time than younger ones.

Those are some of the findings from a new ABA survey that tracked the pro bono efforts of 47,000 attorneys in 24 states.

The study, “Supporting Justice: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyers,” which you can read here, is the first of its kind since 2013.

In the survey, lawyers reported providing an average of 36.9 hours of pro bono service in 2016. Twenty percent provided 50 hours or more.

“Just over half of the attorneys surveyed had provided some pro bono legal services, with a lack of time cited most often as the single most important challenge to pro bono participation,” says this ABA press release. “Approximately 20 percent of surveyed attorneys reported that they had never provided pro bono legal services.”

The top three reasons lawyers perform pro bono are:

  • Helping people in need
  • Ethical obligations (see North Carolina Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1, below)
  • Professional duties

The biggest impediments? Lack of time and family commitments.

Large Firms and Solos Lead the Way

Pro bono work was defined in the study as “legal services personally performed, without charge or expectation of a fee, to persons with limited means or organizations that serve persons of limited means.”

Here are some of the report’s highlights:

  • Private practitioners had higher pro bono averages than corporate and government lawyers.
  • Lawyers in firms of more than 300 lawyers did the most pro bono work, followed by firms of 101-300 lawyers and solo practitioners.
  • Lawyers aged 70 to 74 provided the most hours of pro bono service, followed by lawyers who were 75 to 79.
  • The states with the highest pro bono attorney averages were Washington, Tennessee and Wyoming.

“The justice gap is real. ABA President Hilarie Bass said in a press release, citing a 2017 Legal Services Corporation report that found low-income Americans get little or no legal help for 86 percent of their civil problems. “This report helps to better understand pro bono in a comprehensive way and will allow us to develop more effective strategies to better meet the legal needs of the poor.”

NC Rule 6.1 Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service

“Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.

In fulfilling this responsibility, the lawyer should:

(a) provide a substantial majority of the (50) hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to: (1) persons of limited means; (2) charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means; or (3) individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights, or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization's economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate

(b) provide any additional services through: (1) the delivery of legal services described in paragraph (a) at a substantially reduced fee; or (2) participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.

In addition, a lawyer should voluntarily contribute financial support to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.”




Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. During the course of his 35- year career, he has been a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms succeed through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations ( Contact or 919-619-2441 to learn how Jay can help your practice.


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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