This year saw a diverse and consistently strong set of submissions, which made choosing our top firms all the more difficult. While conducting this year’s Pro Bono Survey, what was most apparent was the continued commitment from all of the firms towards tackling significant issues in their own communities, and upholding the rule of law and making it accessible to all. While this may sound clichéd, it is these things that make this project worthwhile – and compel us to this year recognise the firms below:
|Pro Bono Firm of the Year|
|Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher|
|DLA Piper US|
|Bae, Kim & Lee|
|Kim & Chang|
|KLA-Koury Lopes Advogados|
|Mattos Filho Veiga Filho Marrey Jr e Quiroga Advogados|
|Pérez Bustamante & Ponce|
|Number of full-time members in the pro bono team||Total hours of pro bono in 2016-2017||Average number of hours per fee-earner||Number of lawyers recording 10 or more hours||Does pro bono count towards billable hours?||Level of partner engagement (per cent)|
|Bae, Kim & Lee||N/A||15,093||31||170||Yes||>70|
|DLA Piper (US)||13||96,053||14||1057||Yes||>70|
|Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher||2||170,692||118||1135||Yes||56-70|
|Kim & Chang||6||15,433||18||456||Yes||>70|
|KLA-Koury Lopes Advogados||Not answered||564||63||15||For evaluation purposes only||<10|
|Mattos Filho Veiga Filho Marrey Jr e Quiroga Advogados||1||6,392||17||110||Yes||<10|
|Pérez Bustamante & Ponce||9||8,701||121||16||For evaluation purposes only||<10|
Bae, Kim & Lee is one of the “Big Five” law firms in Korea and has a well-established pro bono network. It clocked up over 15,000 hours of pro bono work over our research period, with 170 lawyers recording 10 or more hours. Its Dongcheon Foundation, which offers legal support and contribution to underprivileged and minority groups, was founded in 2009 as the first public interest law foundation by a law firm in Korea. The firm’s pro bono team consists of partners, associates and other staff members – a diversity of personnel that was not seen across all pro bono practices in our survey. While Bae, Kim & Lee did not match our top firms in terms of hours recorded in the period under consideration, it shows high engagement from not only partners but also associates – with over 70 per cent and over 50 per cent, respectively, taking part in pro bono activities.
Clayton Utz totalled 38,231 hours of pro bono work, with the average fee-earner undertaking 52 hours, of which the firm counts the first 40 towards billable hours. However, while the firm has pro bono targets for individual lawyers (the Australian Pro Bono Centre’s national pro bono target of 35 per year), which it met in 2017, it has no firm-wide target and no mandatory requirement for lawyers. Its engagement is high; more than 70 per cent of partners, associates and trainees take part and it acted on 1,274 matters in the 2017 financial year – meaning that an impressive one in every 27 hours of legal work was for a pro bono client. Clients include Indigenous Australians and corporations; the homeless or those at risk of homelessness; the elderly; victims of sexual assault and domestic violence; and members of the LGBTI community.
DLA’s 30 US offices accrued more than 96,000 hours of pro bono work over our research period, and with 13 full-time committee members it has the capability to provide a wide-reaching and effective pro bono service. That it gives credit for up to 100 pro bono hours annually, with an increase for certain projects subject to approval, makes it one of the most institutionally dedicated firms in our survey when it comes to its lawyers’ pro bono activities. It also factors participation into appraisals, performance reviews and remuneration processes – a reason, perhaps, for an engagement rate of over 70 per cent among partners and associates. Its pro bono activities include a substantial quantity of work with legal clinics in underprivileged areas of the US, and the firm has partnerships with financial services companies who also provide assistance.
This year’s winner of our Pro Bono Award, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher stacked up over 170,000 hours of pro bono work over our research period – a full 74,000 more than any other firm on this list. There is also no limit to the amount of pro bono work that counts towards billable hours, and all matters are supervised by a partner. Also notable is the spread of Gibson Dunn’s pro bono work – while most of those hours were recorded in the US, it accrued 7,900 in Europe, 1,611 in Asia and 982 in the Middle East. A total of 1,135 fee-earners recorded 10 or more hours of pro bono work. The firm has its own pro bono target alongside a target for individual lawyers, both of which it met in 2017. Partner engagement is slightly lower than associate and trainee engagement, which stands at over 70 per cent. Among its outstanding work, the firm has helped vulnerable individuals including migrants and refugees adversely affected by recent US immigration law, as well as underprivileged communities across the country. It is also a signatory of the Pro Bono Institute’s Pro Bono Challenge, which demands firm-wide commitment to pro bono legal services.
WWL spoke to Gibson Dunn’s pro bono coordinator, Katie Marquart about the firm’s practice. You can read the article here.
Last year’s winner Kim & Chang, Korea’s largest law firm in terms of the amount of work it processes, clocked up 15,433 hours of pro bono work during the course of our research, with 456 fee-earners recording 10 or more hours. With a policy of counting pro bono work towards performance review processes and remuneration for fee-earners, Kim & Chang is one of the firms in our survey that can claim to place equal value on pro bono work and other fee-earning matters. It met its firm-wide and individual targets in 2017, along with the Korean Bar Association’s requirements that attorneys must spend over 20 hours on pro bono activities per year. The firm has high engagement in pro bono activities across all levels, with participation from partners, associates and trainees topping 70 per cent. Despite strong competition in the Korean market, Kim & Chang emerges as the leading firm nationally with a record of providing legal advice and assistance to migrant women, young entrepreneurs and people in underprivileged communities.
KLA accrued 5,464 hours of pro bono work over our research period, meaning the firm’s lawyers averaged 63 hours each – a number at the higher end when taking into account all firms that were surveyed. However, with only 15 fee-earners recording 10 or more hours of pro bono, it seems that a small group is putting in a lot of work. Only around 10 per cent of partners engage in pro bono activities; for associates and trainees it is slightly higher, at 11-25 per cent. Collaboration across the firm is strong; the pro bono committee is headed by an associate but all matters are supervised by a partner. The work does not count towards billable hours, but it does form part of the evaluation criteria and is used when determining remuneration packages. The firm, which saw an increase in pro bono work of 50 per cent from 2015 to 2016, helps several communities and organisations in Brazil. It recently assisted the Instituto Museu da Pessoa on intellectual property matters relating to its operations.
Mattos Filho is a leading Brazilian law firm whose pro bono offering has been running for nearly 20 years. In 2016 the firm created a fully dedicated pro bono practice, which allowed it to increase its hours by 65 per cent, from 3,622 in 2015 to 6,391. While its partner engagement is low at under 10 per cent, over 70 per cent of the firm’s associates are engaged in pro bono work. Mattos Filho was part of the committee that lobbied the Brazilian Bar Association to lift restrictions on free legal services to individuals, successfully negotiating the alteration of regulations that formerly allowed only state-approved lawyers to act for individuals in pro bono cases, so that any party could offer such representation. It also supports pro bono causes in women’s rights, LGBT matters and refugees – in 2017 it worked with refugees from Syria, Congo, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.
Pérez Bustamante & Ponce in Quito has nine full-time members in its pro bono team, making it one of the largest committees in our research. It also has one of the longest-serving pro bono practices, having started in 1987. It accrued just under 9,000 hours of pro bono work over the course of our research, meaning that its 72 lawyers averaged 121 hours each – the highest number across the nine firms covered here. Pro bono hours are not billable but are counted for evaluation and remuneration purposes; the firm sets targets for individual lawyers, which were met in 2017. Engagement is varied; less than 10 per cent of partners, but over 40 per cent of associates, are involved in pro bono activities. The firm provides legal advice to eight NGOs; collaborates with several public service organisations; and recently assisted on the “Re-emprende Ecuador” project.
The youngest of South Korea’s “Big Five”, Yulchon stacked up 7,588 hours of pro bono work over the course of our research and 96 of its fee-earners recorded 10 hours or more. It hit its firm-wide and individual pro bono targets in 2017, despite relatively low engagement across the firm: around 50 per cent of partners, 30 per cent of associates and under 10 per cent of trainees were involved in pro bono activities. The firm did not report how much pro bono work is done outside of the main office in Seoul, but within Korea Yulchon has established a strong network. In 2014 it founded Onyul, a public interest corporation, in order to pursue its pro bono aims which include helping to improve Korean society as a whole through public interest activities and economic programmes.