US and UK Pro Bono Programs

A comparative analysis of pro-bono work initiatives in the U.S. and the UK shows increased efforts to provide free legal services to marginalized communities, with differing approaches in each country.

US and UK Pro Bono Programs

Pro-bono work, the voluntary provision of professional services without charge, has long been a part of the legal profession. It is a powerful tool for promoting access to justice, particularly for marginalized and underserved communities. This article explores the programs aimed at increasing pro-bono work in the U.S. and the UK, drawing on recent developments and initiatives in both countries.

The U.S. Perspective and Statistics on Pro-Bono Work

In the United States, pro-bono work has a rich history and is deeply ingrained in the legal profession. Many law firms and legal departments have established pro-bono programs, often setting aspirational goals for attorney participation.

The 2023 CPBO Challenge Report and the 2023 PBI Challenge Report provide comprehensive overviews of these programs, detailing the commitment of the U.S. legal community to pro-bono work.

In 2022, 124 firms reported performing an aggregated total of 4,950,520 hours of pro bono work in 2022, while overall partners participating in pro-bono work was down to 63.1% compared to 66.7% in 2021, according to the PBI Challenge Report.

The CPBO Challenge Report found that firms engaged in various forms of pro-bono work, including real-estate related work for low-income families, mentoring students as well as time spent advising homeless people of their right to government-assisted benefits.

The UK Perspective of Increased Pro-Bono Work

While historically more common in the U.S., pro-bono work has become increasingly important in the UK. A significant development in this regard is the pledge signed by legal leaders from some of the world’s largest companies, including Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and New York-based Goldman Sachs, aiming for 50% pro-bono engagement across their UK legal teams by 2026.

Created by the In House Pro Bono Group in collaboration with the National Pro Bono Centre and GC100, the pledge sets a target of 25% of UK-based lawyers doing pro-bono work over the next 12 months, rising to 35% next year and 50% by 2026. Beyond Coca-Cola and Goldman, signatories so far include Airtel Africa, ITV, and the London Stock Exchange Group, among others.

Comparative Analysis Between the Two Nations

While both the U.S. and the UK have strong commitments to pro-bono work, there are notable differences in their approaches. In the U.S., pro-bono work is often tied to utilization targets and bonuses, providing attorneys with a financial incentive. In contrast, UK legal departments typically do not link pro-bono participation to compensation.

Despite these differences, the commitment to pro-bono work in both countries is clear. As Clare Wardle, General Counsel at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, noted, “The value that pro-bono work can deliver is well recognized, and has never been more important, so I’m delighted to be part of this pledge”.

The programs for increasing pro-bono work in the U.S. and the UK reflect a shared commitment to access to justice and the role of legal professionals in society on the whole. As these programs continue to evolve, it will be interesting to see how they improve the future of pro-bono work in both countries.

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