How Does Pro Bono Work? Can You Get Free Legal Counsel?
Posted: May 23, 2023
Chances are that you’ve heard terms like “pro se” and “pro bono” used to refer to different types of legal representation. While you might have a general sense of what these mean, the legal processes behind them can be less than obvious. We discussed pro se representation in a recent post, and today, we’ll be taking a look at another type of legal representation to answer the question, “How does pro bono work?”
How Does Pro Bono Representation Work?
Generally speaking, pro bono work refers to any service performed free of charge (or at a significantly reduced rate) to help others. The term comes from the Latin phrase pro bono publico (“for the public good”) and can refer to a wide range of types of volunteering—but when it comes to lawyers, the rules are more specific.
While attorneys have the option to decide when and why they take on cases pro bono, the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct outline parameters of pro bono services for practicing lawyers.
Why Do Lawyers Offer Pro Bono Services?
There are a number of reasons why a lawyer might choose to take on pro bono work. For many attorneys, serving the public or helping those in need may have been one of the greatest motivators to get into law in the first place. This can translate to working on behalf of non-profit or charitable organizations or offering free legal advice to people who might not otherwise have access to an attorney.
Even lawyers who are not specifically focused on the public good may have reason to offer services free of charge. Many states actually have ethical rules requiring lawyers to render some amount of pro bono services as part of their duties to remain licensed.
Similarly, The ABA Standards and Rules for Approval of Law Schools require schools to provide opportunities for students to participate in pro bono activities.
For practicing lawyers, the ABA also suggests that all licensed attorneys with the relevant skills or knowledge should “...offer at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year with an emphasis that these services be provided to people of limited means or nonprofit organizations that serve the poor.”
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