Is pro bono work the future for full-service law firms?

Thursday 13 April 2023

Felipe Videla

Beccar Varela, Buenos Aires



As the 21st century came to centre stage, new generations of young professionals began to work in full-service law firms around the globe. With the appearance of these young professionals, firms started to face brand new challenges, especially related to old-style ways of working. Up until recent years, lawyers were used to working 24/7, without having time to think about the real impact of their work other than the hourly billing. Newcomers were almost considered useless tools of the firm until they gained some experience and proved their value through weekends of tough work.

However, driven by competition, technology and some important worldwide crises (among other things), new generations started to question this paradigm and began to demand more attention and, in particular, wanted to understand the purpose and impact of their work.

At the same time, pro bono work has been growing steadily and widely. On top of that, Latin America has faced long periods of political instability that have resulted in higher poverty rates as well as lower institutional quality. The failure of governments to solve important problems has encouraged the further growth of pro bono work, as well as the interest of young generations in the purpose of their activity.


Law firms are not apart from these trends. Trying to keep the status quo will only result in losing clever minds. Therefore, pro bono work has become a useful opportunity and a ‘need to have’ tool to retain young talent. Being a lawyer is seen by newcomers as a combination of being a highly skilled professional with a generous vision for the community. Not having this in mind is like trying to stop the sunshine with one hand. Do we think that Barcelona (the Spanish soccer team) could have such success without paying attention to their upcoming players needs and interests?

And can we look aside not only to the needs of our community but also to the fresh energy of our young lawyers that demand to be socially oriented lawyers? On the other side, if we look at our clients and what they are paying attention to, we will find that most of the big players are now looking for law firms with strong and robust social policies. Moreover, they require in-depth review of specific projects to understand how serious firms are in that regard. It seems that everything is aligned to promote pro bono work growth and that in a couple of years it will turn from a ‘nice to have’ policy to a ‘need to have’ policy if firms want to keep a competitive position in the market.