legal work by the nation's 100 largest law firms tends
to benefit liberal causes, according to a study by the Federalist
Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.
Most of the firms surveyed did their free or "pro bono"
work for causes that could be identified as liberal or left-leaning.
The authors said that the study, "the first comprehensive survey"
of the types of groups receiving pro bono support, was undertaken
"because press and public interest organizations often inquire about
whether the pro bono work undertaken by the nation's leading law
firms is politically/ideologically balanced."
The group said that 70 of the top U.S. law firms, as identified
in The American Lawyer's 1998 list of the nation's 100 biggest
law firms known as "the AmLaw100" provide information
about the causes for which they do free work but that the list may
not be comprehensive. It is "possible that a firm undertakes work
that it chooses not to advertise or disclose," the report says.
The Federalist Society said that it assigned a political bent to
those causes by using "the independently published and widely respected
The Left Guide and The Right Guide as independent
Among the findings: About 23 percent of the 80 law firms for which
data is available help with civil-rights matters, almost all of
the work on behalf of groups supportive of "preferences," like the
NAACP and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. Only one firm
said it was involved in challenging affirmative action.
The study says 19 of the firms listed organizations that deal with
"reproductive rights," "family planning," or "abortion
including the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, the National
Abortion Foundation, the National Organization for Women, the National
Women's Law Center, and Planned Parenthood. No firms listed support
for pro-life groups.
study says 19 of the firms listed organizations that deal
with 'reproductive rights,' 'family planning,' or 'abortion
Three firms listed work on behalf of the Center to Prevent Handgun
Violence and one identified Handgun Control, Inc. both listed
in The Left Guide as beneficiaries of pro bono work.
No firm in the survey identified work on behalf of pro-Second-Amendment
The Federalist Society says it also conducted "an independent survey
of litigating organizations" listed in the conservative Heritage
Foundation's guide to organizations and experts, in an effort to
expand upon the data that firms in the AmLaw100 make available to
Results of this survey showed that 22 of the 70 firms 31.4
percent had done pro bono work for groups advancing a conservative
or libertarian ideology. "By way of comparison," the Federalist
Society says, 60 of the AmLaw100 firms 85.7 percent
that list the groups they represent "assisted organizations which
are contained in The Left Guide."
Jonathan Ross, chairman of the ABA standing committee on legal aid
and indigent defendants, is critical of the study's conclusion.
"Characterizing this as a liberal or conservative issue is the wrong
way to go about looking at it," he says.
"Lawyers tend to give their time in public-interest law," Ross says,
"to groups with whom they have some affinity or interest. I don't
know of any law firms who select clients for pro bono work based
on ideological criteria."
Ross says that the large firms making up the AmLaw100 are not necessarily
representative of the legal community as a whole when it comes to
pro bono work, which is "largely done by individuals for individuals."
"Pro bono work is generally (undertaken) to help poor people or
their organizations. It would be unusual, in my judgment, to find
pro bono work being done for well established well-heeled groups,"
The groups identified in the study, he says, "are, generally, serving
the needs of poor people" who are not well off even though the organizations
themselves may be well-funded.
The Federalist Society says the survey "is not intended to be a
comprehensive listing of pro bono work performed by the AmLaw100."
The report acknowledges that certain inherent limitations exist
which makes detailing the full picture impossible.
The study says that 88 of the 100 leading U.S. law firms provide
general statements regarding the goals and commitments of pro bono
programs and that 52 belong to the "Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge"
(PBC). The PBC is a joint project of the Pro Bono Institute and
the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and
The Federalist Society is influential among conservative legal theorists.
It counts Robert Bork, a former nominee to the United States Supreme
Court, and former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, among its Board
of Visitors. Energy Secretary Spence Abraham, a former Republican
senator from Michigan, is among the group's founders.