The profession’s commitment to pro bono work is declining, a respected annual bellwether suggests.

Thomson Reuters Foundation’s latest TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono reports that fee-earners in England and Wales clocked 21.6 hours in the last 12 months, down on the 22.5 hours reported in last year’s index.

The proportion of fee-earners who did 10 or more hours has fallen from 35.8% in 2015 to 27.6%.

The global snapshot shows that lawyers in China do more pro bono hours than England and Wales, at 37.3 per fee-earner. 

Regional analysis for Asia-Pacific shows a 38% increase in the average number of pro bono hours per fee-earner over the past year, from 17.5 hours to 24.2. The proportion of fee-earners doing 10 or more hours increased from 21.8% last year to 31%.

Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Monique Villa (pictured) said China was ‘definitely the country to watch’.

‘Only 10 years ago, pro bono in China was a niche practice, but today the country has overtaken the amount of hours in England and other countries with solid pro bono traditions,’ she added.

In England and Wales, partner engagement in pro bono nevertheless remains strong, with 40.5% spending time on pro bono work this year compared to 37.8% last time.

Regional analysis also shows that the number of in-house legal teams who are setting up formal pro bono programmes within their corporations has increased.

’In-house lawyers are typically not covered by professional indemnity insurance for pro bono work but lawyers are finding ways around this barrier by, for example, collaborating with law firms on joint pro bono projects,’ the index states.

The survey covers data from more than 130 law firms, representing 64,500 lawyers in 75 countries.

Immigration, refugees and asylum were cited as the key focus areas for pro bono work by 41.4% of firms across the globe, compared to 28% the previous year.

Villa said: ‘The ongoing refugee crisis poses unprecedented challenges for Europe and the rest of the world. We are seeing a worrying increase in the number of migrants illegally detained, including unaccompanied children.

‘Lawyers are stepping up to provide life-changing support, and this is undoubtedly a beautiful story of solidarity in action.’