Allen + Overy recorded £6.4 million in unpaid, pro bono work last year. That’s 50,000 hours of voluntary work. But it’s not purely altruistic, either.

It is hard enough to find a good lawyer these days; and it must be harder still if you have no money.

But you may be surprised to find how many top lawyers are willing to do unpaid work of real value to the wider community.

Staff at Allen & Overy, one of the big City law firms, recorded nearly 50,000 hours of pro bono and community work last year, compared with 30,000 the year before. Voluntary work done by the firm’s London office alone would have brought in if charged to paying clients. All its competitors have their own pro bono programmes, though levels of commitment differ. As a rule, law firms do not go out of their way to publicise their voluntary work; they are not in it for the headlines. But neither is pro bono purely altruistic.

The best new recruits will not consider joining a law firm or set of barristers’ chambers unless it has an attractive pro bono programme. Perhaps because they feel guilty about earning so much, perhaps because they want to make a difference to the lives of individuals, lawyers are as keen to do the work as clients are to receive the benefits.

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