Down economy spurs pro bono work, law group says

//July 30, 2009

Down economy spurs pro bono work, law group says

//July 30, 2009

In 2008, 134 of the nation’s largest law firms performed a total of 4.8 million pro bono hours.The down economy may be taking its toll on law firms, but that hasn’t stopped attorneys from donating their time to good causes, according to the Pro Bono Institute, a research organization housed at the Georgetown University Law Center.

In 2008, 134 of the nation’s largest law firms performed a total of 4.8 million hours of pro bono, or free work for not-for-profit and other charitable organizations, up from the 4.2 million pro bono hours contributed by 135 firms in 2007, according to the institute.

“The slow economy has driven an increase in demand for pro bono services,” said Arnold Natali, a partner and chair of the pro bono committee at the Newark office of McCarter & English LLP. “We’re handling landlord-tenant, asylum request and other matters on a pro-bono basis, just as we have historically done.”

The firm devoted 21,371 hours to pro bono work in 2008, up from 20,173 in 2007, according to its records.

When lawyers engage in pro bono work, they “expand skill sets and make connections that might not otherwise be made,” said Kenneth H. Zimmerman, a member of Lowenstein Sandler P.C. and chair of the Roseland law firm’s Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest. “This economy has become the perfect storm, battering nonprofit organizations, their donors and communities alike. In response, we have reaffirmed our commitment, and are providing assistance in child welfare, immigration, criminal justice and other matters. Besides our legal work, we also extend financial assistance to social services organizations.”

His firm does not break down pro bono hours by state, but Lowenstein lawyers donated an average of 78 hours each in 2008, up from 70 hours each in 2007, Zimmerman said.

“Our Princeton office posted a significant increase in pro bono work, rising from 1,378 hours in 2007 to 1,866 in 2008,” said Amanda Smith, a New York-based partner with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP who directs the firm’s global pro bono efforts.

“We have expanded our pro bono services beyond traditional litigation to encompass corporate governance and other issues on behalf of nonprofit organizations. The downturn in the economy has reduced the demand for some legal services, which enables law firms to free up some lawyers to do even more pro bono work.”

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