all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership? Forum

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all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 11:54 am

i'm mostly talking about biglaw. curious if there's variance by practice area/firm/market

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by alawyer2018 » Tue Oct 12, 2021 11:58 am

Holding all else exactly equal, more pro bono > less pro bono.

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Definitely Not North

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Definitely Not North » Tue Oct 12, 2021 12:18 pm

alawyer2018 wrote:
Tue Oct 12, 2021 11:58 am
Holding all else exactly equal, more pro bono > less pro bono.
That's the thing, though -- all else is likely not equal. Unless you're in a slow practice (in which case you have other problems) or are a litigator where pro bono work is actually somewhat useful for getting experience, those pro bono hours could be billable hours. In my experience, partners do not care at all about pro bono. They only care about your billables (in fact, in the reports they get, the hour counts don't even include pro bono hours) -- that's what they look at when determining how busy they think you are, how in demand you are, etc. The signaling firms do on pro bono stuff is largely marketing for law students.

I've done 0.00 pro bono hours in 5 years and never heard a peep about it. I'd use your very limited time on what partners actually care about (i.e., how much money you're making them and relationships you're developing with clients that pay).

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 12:23 pm

Yeah, the "all else equal" does a lot of work. At my firm, doing literally 0 hours would be a bad look, especially in litigation. But anything above 20 is not gonna do much for you.

That said, if you can add 100-200 hours a year that make you a better attorney and the firm can brag about without billing fewer client hours or ding worse quality work, yeah, that's a net positive.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 12:26 pm

fair enough how about instead of "all else equal" there's a commensurate reduction in non-pro bono billable hours for every hour of pro bono. what number of hours is "optimal" for partnership/reputation (obviously could be a different number by practice area/market)?

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 1:20 pm

20-50 a year, with a year or two where you spend more either because (1) an important partner asks you too or (2) because you get some marquis opportunity the firm can brag about and you can leverage on real matters. [For example, if you get an appellate argument, etc., the firm can use in recruiting materials and you can use to get a paid one later on.]

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 1:32 pm

In your theoretical, unwritten resume within the firm to apply to become a partner, your pro bono work is the "Personal Interests and Community Pursuits" at the bottom of the page that people can chat about with you if they're so incline.

The only real value of pro bono as an associate that I've observed across transactions practice areas is getting you over the bonus eligibility hump if it's been a slow year. Anything not billable is ultimately only a "nice to have" contribution to the firm.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by nixy » Tue Oct 12, 2021 1:43 pm

Yeah, most of the benefits I’ve seen attributed to pro bono are for getting experience you wouldn’t otherwise get, but that experience normally seems most beneficial for getting non-biglaw jobs.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by LBJ's Hair » Tue Oct 12, 2021 2:30 pm

The smart way to do pro bono if you're gunning for partner is to do (a) a good job, (b) with partners who are important that you haven't really worked with.

It's a networking opportunity.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 4:12 pm

Anyone else think 100-200 hours is way beyond “moderate” pro bono?? My firms have had 50 hour caps towards the billing req. I’d say most biglaw attorneys are doing max of 50 unless they’re handling a pro bono trial or similar. But 200 PB hours is basically dedicating a full month per year to PB.

I once had a partner tell me “I’ve never done a single hour of pro bono here and look where I’m at (regional practice group leader).” That sort of messaging is telling.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 4:38 pm

Biglaw partner. My firm requires 20 hours (as in, you will not get a bonus unless you bill 20 hours of pro bono a year) and strongly encourages attorneys to do more. 100-200 hours a year is not remotely unusual and would affirmatively help your partnership case so long as you are meeting/exceeding your billable targets. I was asked by multiple people about what my pro bono practice looked like during my partnership process. I am confident that I would not have made partner had I done significantly less pro bono than I had.

A separate point is that, contrary to received TLS wisdom, there is vastly diminishing utility to the number of hours billed after a certain point for partnership purposes. It is far more important that you are getting the right type of experience, working with the right people, and building the right connections internally and externally than billing a ton of hours. And pro bono, while not a moneymaker in the conventional sense, plays a critical role in helping to get you substantive experience, getting your name out there, building your external network (especially if you are getting pro bono work through a PI organization that works with multiple big firms), etc.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by 12YrsAnAssociate » Tue Oct 12, 2021 5:10 pm

Definitely Not North wrote:
Tue Oct 12, 2021 12:18 pm
They only care about your billables (in fact, in the reports they get, the hour counts don't even include pro bono hours) -- that's what they look at when determining how busy they think you are, how in demand you are, etc.
Let me tell you how infuriating it is to put in a 250 hour month on a pro bono case headed to trial and get a call from a high-ranking partner asking me why my hours are down and if I need work.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by ExpOriental » Tue Oct 12, 2021 5:18 pm

As already mentioned, "all else equal" is not helpful here, as is often the case with these questions. This varies wildly from firm to firm.

For anyone wondering about pro bono at a given firm, I will continue to recommend looking at NALP numbers. You will quickly see large differences in pro bono hours between "unlimited pro bono" firms.

100-200 pro bono hours has been described as high in this thread; you will see a handful of firms where associates average ~200 pro bono hours a year.

What conclusions you can draw from this data is a different discussion, but I think it is an ideal starting point for answering the central question of this thread.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Elston Gunn » Tue Oct 12, 2021 5:42 pm

Think this is different between corporate and lit. It also depends a lot on the firm. I’m sure in corporate it’s irrelevant, but at my DC firm I don’t think there many, if any, highly regarded lit associates who hadn’t done at least a few hundred hours of pro bono by the time they were starting to get senior. For litigators, you just get a lot of experience you wouldn’t otherwise (and my firm definitely liked to take on pro bono cases they could brag about). There were some lit associates who it seemed were *very* highly thought of who had had years with 500+ hours on some famous pro bono case. (I was a regulatory associate, not lit, so I didn’t have direct insight of people’s reputations, but I think I had a decent idea.)

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 6:46 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Oct 12, 2021 4:12 pm
Anyone else think 100-200 hours is way beyond “moderate” pro bono?? My firms have had 50 hour caps towards the billing req. I’d say most biglaw attorneys are doing max of 50 unless they’re handling a pro bono trial or similar. But 200 PB hours is basically dedicating a full month per year to PB.
https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2021 ... ommitment/

The 2021 scorecard does not bear you out--over 60 Amlaw 200 firms have averages above 50, and almost all of the top performers are prestigious/well-regarded & ranked in general.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by 12YrsAnAssociate » Tue Oct 12, 2021 6:58 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Oct 12, 2021 6:46 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Oct 12, 2021 4:12 pm
Anyone else think 100-200 hours is way beyond “moderate” pro bono?? My firms have had 50 hour caps towards the billing req. I’d say most biglaw attorneys are doing max of 50 unless they’re handling a pro bono trial or similar. But 200 PB hours is basically dedicating a full month per year to PB.
https://www.law.com/americanlawyer/2021 ... ommitment/

The 2021 scorecard does not bear you out--over 60 Amlaw 200 firms have averages above 50, and almost all of the top performers are prestigious/well-regarded & ranked in general.
When I click your link the content is behind a pay wall, but I think both of you can be right. I've been at 3 biglaw firms, only 1 was considered very big in pro bono, and 1 seemed to actively discourage it. At all 3, there were many many associates with zero pro bono hours, and a couple associates with 500-1000 pro bono hours. I'm sure at all 3 the couple high pro bono billers got the associate average well above 50 even though the median and mode were probably both zero or close to it.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 7:01 pm

12YrsAnAssociate wrote:
Tue Oct 12, 2021 6:58 pm
When I click your link the content is behind a pay wall, but I think both of you can be right. I've been at 3 biglaw firms, only 1 was considered very big in pro bono, and 1 seemed to actively discourage it. At all 3, there were many many associates with zero pro bono hours, and a couple associates with 500-1000 pro bono hours. I'm sure at all 3 the couple high pro bono billers got the associate average well above 50 even though the median and mode were probably both zero or close to it.
The site does answer the question for 20 hours (the only cutoff it analyzed)--around 60 AL 200 firms have at least 50% of attorneys exceed 20 pro bono hours.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Sackboy » Tue Oct 12, 2021 9:52 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Oct 12, 2021 4:12 pm
Anyone else think 100-200 hours is way beyond “moderate” pro bono?? My firms have had 50 hour caps towards the billing req. I’d say most biglaw attorneys are doing max of 50 unless they’re handling a pro bono trial or similar. But 200 PB hours is basically dedicating a full month per year to PB.

I once had a partner tell me “I’ve never done a single hour of pro bono here and look where I’m at (regional practice group leader).” That sort of messaging is telling.
Meh, some biglaw firms take pro bono seriously. I know my firm had a 95-100% participation rate last year and averaged 50 hours. While I'm sure some people were on large matters that pulled the number up, I'm sure some people also tried to do as little as possible. When you get to firms of 1,000+ attorneys, I'd think the law of large numbers would mean the average is reasonably close to what most people do per year.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 10:00 pm

So if I'm a transactional associate with zero interest in pro bono, should I just suck it up and volunteer in a soup kitchen or something? What pro bono stuff do you guys do?

(fwiw I donate to charity, just don't have interest in donating my time)

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 11:17 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Oct 12, 2021 11:54 am
i'm mostly talking about biglaw. curious if there's variance by practice area/firm/market
It doesn’t matter. The only benefit would be expanding your network in the firm and getting your name out there, but nobody is going to focus on your PB hours and give you the nod

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 11:20 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Oct 12, 2021 10:00 pm
So if I'm a transactional associate with zero interest in pro bono, should I just suck it up and volunteer in a soup kitchen or something? What pro bono stuff do you guys do?

(fwiw I donate to charity, just don't have interest in donating my time)
Setting aside the importance (IMO) of giving back in one way or another, no it doesn’t matter in terms of success at the firm. I am in Corp and have rarely done any PB and am in my senior years. Nobody has said anything either way.

The PB Corp projects I’ve seen are mostly non profit type things. I have also seen helping veterans with wills and the like or advising small businesses on a range of issues like preparing terms and conditions for an online store or advising on PPP loans.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Toursaucier » Thu Oct 14, 2021 11:47 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Oct 12, 2021 11:54 am
i'm mostly talking about biglaw. curious if there's variance by practice area/firm/market
Answering for litigation. I suspect pro bono is even less important in other practice areas. With that caveat, and assuming "all else equal" means "I wouldn't bill 1 hour less on billable work and the quality/responsiveness of my billable work would not change":

1. It won't ever hurt you (again, assuming one ascribes the definition of "all else equal" above). More experience > less, chance to develop skills, if you work on highly publicized matters you may get media training/attract positive PR.

2. It won't help you go from "maybe/no" to "yes," at least not directly. Nobody is going from maybe to yes based on pro bono hours worked.

3. There are a few firms where an actual "zero" pro bono hours worked might stand out as out of step with what they expect culturally. Places where this would actually get noticed and be a barrier to promotion are definitely NOT the norm, at least in the V100.

4. The 100-200 hours of pro bono might (if they are the good kind of pro bono career wise) have some indirect benefits. The most obvious are: (1) helping a well respected partner you wouldn't otherwise work with (and doing a good job on the matter); (2) generating recognition that can build your profile (I've seen people parlay pro bono work into inclusion on 30 under 30 type lists); (3) attain hard to get experience (appellate argument for example); (4) high-profile pro bono that generates positive media for the firm; or (5) pro bono that leads to board seats which some firms view as indicia of ability to network/build connections (something like work with a legal non-profit on a significant matter, get invited to a junior board perceived as prestigious etc.)

5. 100-200 is NOT moderate pro bono. That's basically one less matter you could have worked on. So unless it truly is "there wasn't other work for me to do" I think you would likely be better served promotion working 20 hours of pro bono and taking on another matter instead of spending 200 on pro bono.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Oct 14, 2021 12:56 pm

Corp only:

As someone billing 2600 this year, yeah I hear you that I should do my 20-50 pro bono hours but I'm exhausted.

20-50 is another small matter for me and I get it's good and all and if you want to do pro bono, go to town, but getting penalized for not doing it seems absurd.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Oct 14, 2021 1:53 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Oct 14, 2021 12:56 pm
Corp only:

As someone billing 2600 this year, yeah I hear you that I should do my 20-50 pro bono hours but I'm exhausted.

20-50 is another small matter for me and I get it's good and all and if you want to do pro bono, go to town, but getting penalized for not doing it seems absurd.
This was me last year. My pro bono client was pretty understanding about slow response times and less than stellar call preparedness, but the reality is when you're getting crushed with work you have to do some triage and billables always come first. It made me feel bad that the most deserving of my clients couldn't get the attention I thought they deserved.

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Re: all else equal, does moderate pro bono (100-200 hrs/per year) help or hurt with partnership?

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Oct 16, 2021 6:02 pm

Immediate family member made equity partner at a V10 last year. S/he did not do a single hour of pro bono at any point over the preceding 8 years. All other things equal, I don’t see how it can hurt you, but AFAIK, it’s completely unnecessary for partnership as long as you have the intelligence, proficiency, hours, and key relationships inside/out of the firm.

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