A Look at Associate Hours and at Law Firm Pro Bono Programs

NALP Bulletin, April 2010

While billable hour expectations have inched up over the years, analyses based on NALP's 2009-2010 Directory of Legal Employers show that a requirement of 2,000 billable hours per year is still not typical, and although it is not possible to track changes at individual firms and offices, a requirement of 2,000 hours has become only slightly more common on an aggregate basis, accounting for 12% of reported minimums, up from 9% in 2004. But overall, the distribution has moved "to the right." For example, in 1998, the most commonly reported figure was 1,800 hours, reported by about 30% of offices. Today, 18% of offices report an 1,800-hour minimum.

Table 1 and Table 2 report on total and billable hours worked in 2008, showing both the distribution of figures reported and the average. For comparison, the average for 2007, as reported by the same firms, is also shown. It is worth noting that the average number of hours worked and the average number of billable hours worked dropped both overall and in every firm size, perhaps due to the slowdown in the legal economy during 2008. The third table shows the five most commonly reported billable hours requirements, the percent of offices reporting each, as well as an average. These averages are almost identical to those compiled from the 2008-2009 Directory.

The next series of tables reports on a variety of items related to pro bono work. Table 4, Table 5, and Table 6 report on whether firms give billable hours credit for pro bono work, and, if so, whether there is a maximum that will be credited and what that maximum is. As Table 6 shows, a maximum, if there is one, is most commonly 50 hours, reported by 51% of offices, followed by 100 hours, reported by 20% of offices. Table 7 reports on the extent to which pro bono hours are considered equivalent to billable hours for bonus purposes.

Finally, Table 8 and Table 9 report on the extent to which firms set goals for the minimum number of pro bono hours individual lawyers should contribute. Note that the items compiled in Tables 8 and 9 appear only in the online NALP Directory of Legal Employers (www.nalpdirectory.com) and not in the print edition.

In general, the percentages reported in Tables 4-7 have not changed a great deal in a year. However, offices overall were a bit more likely to provide billable hours credit for pro bono work (81% versus 79%), but a bit less likely to report that pro bono hours are equal to billable hours for bonus purposes (75% versus 77%). The items on pro bono hour goals were revised for the 2009-2010 Directory. To view the complete analyses from prior years, see www.nalp.org/billablehours.

Tables 10 through 12 provide some analyses of how pro bono activities are structured and managed in law firms. No one structure can be considered typical, but in general a combination of a lawyer spending part of his or her time managing pro bono activities along with a pro bono committee overseeing the program is most common, especially in firms of 251-500 lawyers. For firms that have a lawyer dedicated to pro bono management, it is typically in conjunction with other management structures. A pro bono committee or pro bono coordinator usually makes decisions as to whether to take on a pro bono matter. Finally, although the majority of firms indicated that there are pro bono opportunities for summer associates, few provide externships, fellowships, sabbaticals, or part-time pro bono programs for their lawyers.

Table 1. Average Total Hours Worked in 2008

  PERCENT REPORTING: Average in 2007 Average in 2008 # of Offices Reporting
1,000-1,999 Hours 2,000-2099 Hours 2,100-2,199 Hours 2,200 or More Hours
Overall 41.8% 17.3% 19.7% 21.3% 2,066 2,036 620
By Size of Firm (# of lawyers):
50 or fewer 65.4 17.9 6.4 10.3 1,946 1,935 78
51-100 45.9 30.6 10.6 12.9 2,008 1,991 85
101-250 45.9 26.0 14.4 13.7 2,018 2,004 146
251-500 35.7 10.1 30.2 24.0 2,098 2,056 129
501-700 41.3 10.9 15.2 32.6 2,209 2,100 46
701+ 27.2 8.1 30.1 34.6 2,157 2,115 136

Note: The number of offices shown in the last column is the number reporting a figure for 2008. The number reporting a figure for 2007 is slightly smaller.
Source: 2009-2010 NALP Directory of Legal Employers.


Table 2. Average Billable Hours Worked in 2008

  PERCENT REPORTING: Average in 2007 Average in 2008 # of Offices Reporting
1,000-1,750 Hours 1,751-1,800 Hours 1,801-1,900 Hours More than 1,900 Hours
Overall 39.5% 18.3% 24.2% 18.0% 1,829 1,784 666
By Size of Firm (# of lawyers):
50 or fewer 43.4 18.1 22.9 15.7 1,799 1,771 83
51-100 31.1 21.1 24.4 23.3 1,837 1,803 90
101-250 47.0 15.7 22.9 14.5 1,820 1,773 166
251-500 34.0 18.7 29.3 18.0 1,843 1,790 150
501-700 33.3 17.5 42.1 7.0 1,837 1,777 57
701+ 42.5 20.0 11.7 25.8 1,836 1,788 120

Note: The number of offices shown in the last column is the number reporting a figure for 2008. The number reporting a figure for 2007 is slightly smaller.
Source: 2009-2010 NALP Directory of Legal Employers.


Table 3. Billable Hours Requirements per Year

  PERCENT REPORTING: Average required # of Offices Reporting
1,800 hours 1,850 hours 1,900 hours 1,950 hours 2,000 hours
Overall 18.1 18.0 24.7 18.0 12.0 1,885 1,079
50 or fewer 27.1 17.6 9.4 4.7 5.9 1,796 85
51-100 39.3 20.5 16.4 4.1 5.7 1,843 122
101-250 20.8 26.9 28.8 9.9 2.4 1,860 212
251-500 13.8 18.6 29.7 21.9 9.7 1,900 269
501-700 15.1 12.5 28.3 36.8 6.6 1,904 152
701+ 8.4 11.7 23.0 20.5 32.2 1,930 239

Note: Percentages do not add to 100 because not all billable requirement figures reported are shown. Those shown are the five most commonly reported, and account for 91% of all figures reported.
Source: NALP 2009-2010 Directory of Legal Employers


Table 4. Is Billable Hours Credit Given for Pro Bono Work?

  Yes Case-by-case No # of offices reporting
Overall 80.8 7.2 12.0 1,401
By size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 45.5 17.2 37.4 99
51-100 68.1 6.7 25.2 119
101-250 66.5 10.6 22.9 245
251-500 86.6 8.0 5.4 313
501-700 91.2 1.4 7.4 148
701+ 91.6 4.8 3.6 477

Source: NALP 2009-2010 Directory of Legal Employers.


Table 5. Where Billable Hours Credit Given for Pro Bono Work —
Is There a Maximum That Will Be Credited?

  Yes Case-by-case No # of offices reporting
Overall 40.8 9.0 50.2 1,153
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 17.3 34.6 48.1 52
51-100 45.2 19.0 35.7 84
101-250 56.5 9.4 34.1 170
251-500 54.0 5.8 40.3 278
501-700 49.6 0.7 49.6 135
701+ 25.3 8.5 66.1 434

Note: Figures are based on 1,153 ofiices/firms which reported that billable hour credit is given for pro bono work (either yes or case by case) and which also reported whether or not there is a maximum amount that will be credited.


Table 6. Maximum Number of Pro Bono Hours that May be Counted
Towards Billable Hours Requirements per Year

  25 hours 50 hours 60 hours 100 hours Average # of
hours credited
# of Offices
Reporting
Overall 6.2 50.9 6.5 19.6 72 434
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
100 or fewer 6.8 43.2 0.0 29.5 68 44
101-250 4.7 47.7 3.5 20.9 71 86
251-500 12.7 56.0 6.0 10.0 67 150
501-700 0.0 55.4 5.4 26.8 74 56
701+ 1.0 46.9 13.3 24.5 82 98

Note: Percentages do not add to 100 because not all reported hours figures are shown. However, no other hours figure accounted for more than 6% of responses. Figures are based on 434 offices/ firms which reported setting a maximum number of pro bono hours which can be credited towards billable hours, and which also reported the maximum.
Source: NALP 2009-2010 Directory of Legal Employers.

Table 7. Are Pro Bono Bono Hours Equivalent to Billable Hours for Bonus Purposes?

Firm size Yes Case-by-case No # of offices reporting
Overall 74.8 11.3 13.9 1,215
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 38.2 26.5 35.3 68
51-100 61.1 12.6 26.3 95
101-250 63.3 13.8 23.0 196
251-500 78.4 13.8 7.8 268
501-700 85.0 0.7 14.3 140
701+ 83.0 9.4 7.6 448

Source: NALP 2009-2010 Directory of Legal Employers.


Table 8. Is There a Goal for the Minimum Number of Pro Bono Bono Hours per Lawyer?

Firm size Yes No # of offices reporting
Overall 60.6 39.4 1,009
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 11.1 88.9 36
51-100 35.8 64.2 53
101-250 48.3 51.7 118
251-500 51.4 48.6 243
501-700 76.4 23.6 106
701+ 71.7 28.3 453

Source: NALP 2009-2010 Directory of Legal Employers.


Table 9. Goal for Pro Bono Hours per Lawyer

  Percent Reporting: Average # of Hours Goal per Lawyer # of Offices
Reporting
20 hours 25 hours 30 hours 40 hours 50 hours 60 hours
Overall 12.3 7.7 0.9 2.6 47.1 20.8 48 544
By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
100 or fewer 33.3 4.8 0.0 4.8 42.9 0.0 35 21
101-250 29.8 4.3 8.5 2.1 38.3 2.1 45 47
251-500 3.4 10.1 0.8 5.9 57.1 8.4 51 119
501-700 6.2 0.0 0.0 7.7 58.5 4.6 52 65
701+ 13.0 9.2 0.0 0.0 42.1 33.9 47 292

Note: Percentages do not add to 100 because not all reported hours figures are shown. The figures shown are the six most commonly reported. No other figures accounted for more than 2% of responses. Figures are based on 544 offices/ firms which reported setting a goal for pro bono hours per lawyer, and which also reported that number.
Source: NALP 2009-2010 Directory of Legal Employers.


Table 10. Decision-maker as to Whether the Firm Will Handle a Pro Bono Matter

  All offices By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 51-100 101-250 251-500 501-700 701+
Pro Bono Committe 39.9 8.5 12.8 23.7 52.8 39.2 57.5
Pro Bono Coordinator 32.9 8.5 14.1 21.5 41.3 22.2 50.2
Department chair 17.3 2.3 13.5 17.9 21.6 25.8 16.1

Note: Overall percentages are based on all 1,583 offices, including those who did not check any of the options. Of the 1,583 offices, about 28% did not check any of the options or provide another description. Percentages may total more than 100 since more than one choice could be checked.
Source: NALP 2009-2010 Directory of Legal Employers.


Table 11. Opportunities for Pro Bono Activities or Work in a Public Interest Organization

  All offices By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 51-100 101-250 251-500 501-700 701+
Opportunities for summer associates 65.4 18.5 29.5 52.0 73.4 59.3 93.3
Externships 17.2 0.0 0.6 5.4 14.4 8.2 38.5
Fellowships 13.5 0.0 0.6 2.2 10.9 7.7 31.2
Part-time pro bono programs 2.8 0.8 1.3 1.1 3.1 1.5 5.0
Sabbaticals 1.6 1.5 0.6 0.7 4.1 0.0 1.6

Overall percentages are based on 1,583 offices. Of these, about 75% did not check any of the options (externships, fellowships, sabbaticals, and part-time pro bono programs.) Opportunities for summer associates is a separate item in the online directory and checked by 65% of employers.
Source: NALP 2009-2010 Directory of Legal Employers.


Table 12. Structure to Manage Pro Bono Program and to Provide Guidance for Lawyers

Program managed by: All offices By Size of Firm (# of Lawyers)
50 or fewer 51-100 101-250 251-500 501-700 701+
Lawyer PT + Pro Bono Committee 15.4 3.8 6.4 14.3 30.6 3.6 16.7
Lawyer PT 10.2 6.2 14.7 16.5 18.1 8.2 2.0
Lawyer FT + Pro Bono Committee 8.3 0.0 0.0 0.7 2.8 23.7 14.9
Lawyer PT + Pro Bono Committee + Administrator 7.1 0.8 5.1 3.9 3.8 1.0 15.7
Lawyer FT + Lawyer PT + Pro Bono Committee 6.7 0.0 0.0 2.9 6.3 7.2 12.7
Pro Bono Committee 6.1 2.3 9.0 16.5 10.3 0.0 0.2
Lawyer FT + Lawyer PT + Pro Bono Committee + Administrator 5.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.5 6.7 13.3
Lawyer FT + Pro Bono Committee + Administrator 5.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 5.3 2.1 11.9
Pro Bono Committee + Administrator 2.3 0.0 0.0 0.7 3.4 8.2 1.4
Lawyer FT + Administrator 1.8 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.0 0.0 5.4
Lawyer FT 1.3 0.0 0.0 1.1 3.8 0.5 1.0
None of the above 28.8 83.8 64.1 41.2 11.9 35.6 5.0

Note: Management structures are ranked from the most common to the least common. Firms could check one or more management structures: a full-time lawyer dedicated to pro bono oversight, an lawyer one of whose duties is oversight of pro bono activities, a pro bono committee, and a non-lawyer administrator. The structures and combinations listed above account for 99% of all 1,583 offices. Of these offices about 29% did not choose any of the options, as shown in the last line of the table.
Source: NALP 2009-2010 Directory of Legal Employers.

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