The average amount of pro bono work undertaken by solicitors has fallen by nearly 15% over the past year, according to a Law Society survey published today. Although Chancery Lane says the decline reflects a narrower definition than that used in previous polls, the trend will renew fears about access to justice following cuts to legal aid.
The Law Society survey, published to mark National Pro Bono Week, shows that the percentage of practising certificate holders who had undertaken at least one hour of pro bono work over the past 12 months was static, at 40% this year compared with 41% the previous year.
However, the average number of pro bono hours solicitors worked fell by eight, from 55 in 2010 to 47 last year, a drop of 14.5%, and the value of that work dropped 1.5%, from £518m to £510m, equating to 2.6% of the total turnover of solicitors’ firms.
The Law Society’s new definition excludes legal aid work and work done by solicitors who are paid to provide free services. As a result of the change, the Law Society says that its findings are not directly comparable to previous survey results.
The Gazette reported in October that the number of pro bono hours has fallen at some of the biggest firms, with the global total down 9% in 2011 at Clifford Chance and 15% at Hogan Lovells. The firms said that the changes reflected a move away from quantity towards greater use of specialist skills.
In another survey published this week, charity LawWorks finds in-house teams ‘growing in sophistication’ in their approach to pro bono. It reveals that lawyers are required to do pro bono work at 12% of organisations and given incentives to do it in 9%.
Nearly two-thirds of organisations recognise pro bono in performance appraisals, while 20% consider it in promotion decisions and 7% in salary reviews.