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2003 Survey of Law Firm Pro Bono Activity and International Pro Bono Video Conference

Monday, May 17, 2004

  • By: William J. Dean
  • Organization: Volunteers of Legal Service
This article originally appeared in the May 3, 2004 "Pro Bono Digest" column of the New York Law Journal.

2003 Survey of Pro Bono Activity by New York City Law Firms

In the just-completed Volunteers of Legal Service 2003 survey of New York City law firms taking the VOLS Pro Bono Pledge, 38 of 39 firms reported that they had met, or exceeded, the VOLS annual goal of providing at least an average of 30 hours of qualifying pro bono work per attorney. Lawyers at the 38 law firms performed a total of 663,132 pro bono hours during 2003, or during their most recently completed fiscal year.

The VOLS definition of qualifying pro bono work, with a few exceptions, is limited to providing free civil legal services to poor people, or to organizations serving poor people. After September 11, the VOLS definition was expanded to include pro bono assistance "to persons, or businesses, affected by the World Trade Center calamity."

Overall, 11,525 lawyers at these 38 firms averaged 58 hours of pro bono work. At nine of the firms, lawyers averaged 30-39 hours; at five firms, 40-49 hours; at thirteen firms, 50-59 ; and at eleven firms, 60 or more hours, with two of these firms averaging over 100 hours of pro bono work. More than two-thirds of the firms averaged between 30-60 hours of pro bono work.

Since the year 2002 survey, additional law firms have taken the VOLS Pro Bono Pledge. For comparison purposes, the same 35 firms meeting, or exceeding, the VOLS goal in both years performed 633,778 pro bono hours in 2002 and 639,998 pro bono hours in 2003. There were 10,722 lawyers at these 35 firms in 2002 and 10,919 lawyers in 2003. The average hours contributed by lawyers at surveyed firms in both years was 59 hours. Further, for comparison purposes, fifteen of the 35 firms reported increases of more than five percent in pro bono hours over 2002. Seven of these firms had no significant increase in the number of their lawyers. Some of the pro bono increases were dramatic, with twelve firms experiencing increases over 20 percent, and some even higher. But pro bono hours declined more than five percent at fourteen firms, with half experiencing declines of 20 percent or more. Six firms reported approximately the same number of hours.

All 39 firms taking the VOLS Pro Bono Pledge expect to meet the standard in 2004. The 38 law firms meeting, or exceeding, the VOLS Pro Bono Pledge in 2003 are: Arnold & Porter Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft Cahill Gordon & Reindel Chadbourne & Parke Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton Clifford Chance US Coudert Brothers Cravath, Swaine & Moore Davis Polk & Wardwell Debevoise & Plimpton Dorsey & Whitney Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson Goodwin Procter Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe Holland & Knight Hughes Hubbard & Reed Hunton & Williams Kaye Scholer Kelley, Drye & Warren KMZ Rosenman Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel Latham & Watkins LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy Morrison & Foerster Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison Pillsbury Winthrop Proskauer Rose Shearman & Sterling Simpson Thacher & Bartlett Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom Stroock & Stroock & Lavan Sullivan & Cromwell Weil, Gotshal & Manges White & Case Willkie Farr & Gallagher Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering.

This is the fifteenth annual survey of pro bono activity undertaken by VOLS. In the first VOLS survey, conducted in 1989, 6,250 lawyers at 24 law firms performed 395,212 pro bono hours.

Pro Bono Video Conference

Last week the Vance Center for International Justice Initiatives held a video conference on microenterprise pro bono opportunities with La Comisión Pro Bono del Colegio de Abogados, Ciudad de Buenos Aires. The Vance Center is affiliated with the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.

In New York City, lawyer participants gathered at the offices of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison for the discussion with their counterparts in Buenos Aires. After welcoming remarks by Paul, Weiss corporate partner Edwin S. Maynard and Vance Center executive director Joan Vermeulen, presentations were made by Mr. Maynard; Jason Markham of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, one of fifteen law firms matched by Volunteers of Legal Service with economic development corporations through the VOLS Microenterprise Project; Diana Deszo of Acción New York, matched with Cleary, which identifies low-income microentrepreneurs in need of pro bono assistance on business law matters; Akira Arroyo who heads the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project of the City Bar Fund; and Stephen Falla Riff and Susan Chase of the Community Development Project of the Legal Aid Society's Volunteer Division.

Mr. Maynard described the enormous appeal to lawyers of working with low income microenterprise clients. At Paul, Weiss last year, 90 lawyers assisted 50 microenterprise clients. Young lawyers in particular enjoy working directly with clients, counseling them, and taking complex legal documents designed for major transactions and stripping them down to essentials for these far smaller entities. Working with microentrepreneurs in the Harlem community, Mr. Maynard said, "has changed my relationship to the city, and as a person, in profound ways."

Cleary's work with Acción, where most microenterprise clients are Hispanic, was "a natural fit," Mr. Markham said, given the firm's strong involvement with Latin American countries. Legal services are provided by Cleary lawyers in the areas of business structure and review of commercial leases and contracts. Seminars are held for microentrepreneurs at the firm, most recently on taxes. The lawyers in Buenos Aires responded with questions, one being, "Was it difficult to persuade New York City firms to participate in a microenterprise project?" Not at all, was the response, since New York firms were looking for ways to involve their transactional lawyers in pro bono work. Here was a wonderful opportunity to do so. Working with microentrepreneurs is appealing because it plays to the strength and skills of corporate lawyers, as opposed to litigation-driven pro bono work in areas such as housing, family law and public benefits.

At the conclusion of the video conference, the lawyers in Buenos Aires conferred among themselves for 75 minutes to map out next steps toward establishing a microenterprise program in Argentina. This is the first in a series of video conferences being organized by the Vance Institute, with future conferences planned with lawyers in Santiago, Chile and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

William J. Dean is executive director of Volunteers of Legal Service.

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