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One Year After COVID, George Floyd, and Remote Work: What the Data Says About Pro Bono in 2021

Photo by Thought Catalog

It’s now been over a year since our first COVID-induced lockdowns began, since protesters took to the streets advocating for justice in the wake of George Floyd’s (and others’) death, and since our lives shifted nearly entirely online. Lawyers across legal services organizations, law firms, and corporate teams stepped up like never before to offer pro bono services to those in need.

As Pro Bono Month 2021 approaches, we wanted to understand, strictly through the data, how pro bono work has shifted between last year and this one. After analyzing a dataset of thousands of pro bono engagements across Paladin’s platform, here are the top six takeaways:

  1. As a community, women saw the largest direct increase in pro bono services in 2021 compared to other groups. COVID hit women especially hard as they left the workforce at alarming rates in 2020, spent more time caregiving, faced increased gender-based violence around the world, and were significantly affected by health-related resource reallocations. Even though the increase in women-specific pro bono services was small — just 3% — the shift was the most monumental between community groups.
  2. Entrepreneurs, artists, and nonprofits, all of whom received a surge in pro bono assistance in early 2020 as the economy screeched to a halt, saw an 11% decrease in services in 2021 — the most drastic decline this year. While the economy is slowly coming back and businesses have reopened, the urgency for employment-related legal services has lessened. Resources related to remote work, COVID policies, and government benefits are now more readily available and understood, which is helping organizations better respond to uncertainty.
  3. Civil rights and racial justice specific pro bono continued to scale in 2021, although they still only account for about 7% and 5% of pro bono work, respectively. The emergence of new racial justice-focused initiatives in the wake of George Floyd’s and others’ deaths contributed to a slight rise, but it’s still only about 1/10 of pro bono work nationwide.
  4. Transactional pro bono work dropped 12% in 2021, while litigation work rose 7%. This shift correlates to the move away from nonprofit and social enterprise-related pro bono work and towards an increased focus on women and children, in areas like family law and immigration.
  5. Fixed-time commitments like clinics and brief advice hotlines also rose by 6 percentage points this year, as more bite-sized pro bono opportunities were created in response to the demand for remote work. Since time commitment is always a top consideration for volunteers in taking on pro bono, and virtual opportunities have made it easier to engage, we expect this trend to continue to grow.
  6. Overall, the number of pro bono engagements taken on through Paladin was up 11% compared to this time last year, indicating that giving back is still a priority for many attorneys. We’re optimistic that as we collectively recover from COVID, we’ll continue to see increased pro bono engagement, and the Paladin team looks forward to leveraging our technology to help those most in need find pro bono assistance!

Have any other insights to share? Feel free to reach out at kristen@joinpaladin.com.

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