US firms cut pro bono hours while need increases

December 2, 2011 Pro bono work at large law firms appears to be on the slide, as law firms cut costs in a difficult economy. Reports show that the average number of pro bono hours worked per attorney at large law firms sank by around 8% last year compared to 2009. And the decline in free legal hours offered by these firms comes at a time of increased need, with the perilous economy pushing a greater number of people into poverty, which drives up bankruptcy, child custody, foreclosure and domestic violence cases, among others. Meanwhile government funding for free or low-cost legal services has been stripped back in response to budget deficits.

At the ABA’s first National Pro Bono Summit, held last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged those in the legal profession to come up with novel ways -- including enlisting retired lawyers and law students, among others -- to plug what some are calling a chasm in basic legal services and access to the justice system.

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