For more than 25 years, the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, administered by Pro Bono Institute (PBI), has served as a polestar for pro bono, with signatory firms committing to contribute three percent or five percent of their total billable hours to pro bono annually and upholding the principles of the Challenge, committing to developing the firm’s pro bono culture.
The Challenge, and its definition of pro bono, has become an industry standard guiding well over 60,000 attorneys at Challenge signatory law firms (as well as many other organizations). For their part, Challenge signatory firms have responded to the call, boosting pro bono hours three-fold in just the last 20 years alone. As pro bono programs have expanded and become more sophisticated, questions around how pro bono resources should be deployed to best contribute to the public good and move our society closer to universal access to justice have also arisen.
The PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Project initiative has responded to these developments in two ways:
- Re-examining the Challenge’s documentation of the definition of pro bono; and,
- Adding a provision to the Challenge Statement of Principles that expresses the Challenge signatory firms’ commitment to the advancement of racial justice.
In August 2021, PBI’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project convened the Defining Law Firm Pro Bono working group to re-examine the definition of pro bono, as outlined in Challenge documents, to ensure they remain current and constructive in meeting the needs of underserved communities. The working group consists of a diverse group of 13 law firm pro bono program leaders.
Working Group Members include: Hilarie Atkisson, Senior Director of Corporate Social Responsibility/Pro Bono Counsel, Fenwick & West; Wendy Atrokhov, Public Service Counsel, Director of Global Pro Bono, Latham & Watkins; Tiffany Graves, Pro Bono Counsel, Bradley; Amy Grunske, Head of International Pro Bono, Sustainability & Community Responsibility, Orrick; Chris Herrling, Pro Bono Counsel, WilmerHale; Lamin Khadar, Sustainability Lawyer, Dentons; Alison King, Pro Bono Counsel, Kirkland & Ellis; Paul Lee, Pro Bono Counsel, Steptoe; Leah Medway, Pro Bono Counsel, Perkins Coie; Cheryl Naja, Director of Pro Bono and Community Service, Alston & Bird; Carolyn Rosenthal, Director of Pro Bono, Goodwin; Kathleen Wach, Pro Bono Counsel, Miller Chavelier; and Angie Zimmern, Pro Bono Director & Senior Counsel, McGuireWoods;
The key areas under review by the working group are impact finance and social impact, public rights, global pro bono, and racial justice. The group is expected to complete its work and make recommendations to PBI leadership later in 2022.
PBI President and CEO, Eve Runyon, said, "I applaud the diligent efforts and intentions of the Working Group to reflect developments in pro bono today. They’ve been examining Challenge documents to reflect the forward movement of our society, with an eye toward ensuring the Challenge expresses our commitment to the advancement of access to justice for all."
Complementing the effort of the Working Group to ensure that the Challenge directs signatories to the full range of pro bono efforts needed to best improve access to justice, in January 2022, PBI expanded the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge pledge to expressly embody a commitment by Challenge signatories to combat racial injustices and other systemic injustice through their pro bono work. In particular, the following provision was included in the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge Statement of Principles:
5. In furtherance of these principles, our firm also agrees: