Pro Bono Lawyers


Within the law community, ‘pro bono’ refers to work that is performed voluntarily and free of charge. There are numerous reasons why lawyers do pro bono work. Some do it because they believe in their client’s cause, while others do it because it’s mandatory. The American Bar Association’s ethical rules state that all lawyers must provide a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono legal work and services per year. The actual term pro bono comes from the Latin term ‘pro bono publico’, which means for the public good. This is why a lawyer performing pro bono work is said to be ‘working for the good of the public.’

Not all jurisdictions require 50 hours of pro bono work from lawyers. State and city bar associations sometimes recommend more or less than the national average. For example, New York only requires 20 hours per year of pro bono work.

As a lawyer, you may wonder whether or not you are required to provide pro bono work each year. As an expert, I’m telling you yes. It doesn’t matter if you work in a small law firm, large law firm, government agency, in-house corporation or if you are self-employed. All lawyers, each year, must complete their jurisdictions requirements for pro bono work. You can find a current list of legal organizations that provide pro bono help in the United States on the ABA website. You can also look at your own bar association or the internet to learn more about participation.

Pro Bono Lawyer Duties

Just because a lawyer is doing the job pro bono, doesn’t mean he or she has any other duties or responsibilities as before. Generally, the duties a lawyer performs relies heavily on the type of case they take-on and which area of law they practice. If you had to draft documents and prepare evidence in previous cases where you were paid, you must do the same while working pro bono. Generally, pro bono lawyers help their clients file government applications or petitions, as well as represent them in court by preparing evidence, interviewing witnesses, and negotiations with the other side.

Pro bono lawyers primarily work for individuals who can not afford representation. In most cases, the lawyer takes on the case pro bono because they believe in their client’s cause or case. Just because the lawyer is not being paid, doesn’t give them the right to slack on specific duties. All lawyers have ethical responsibilities to themselves, their clients, their employers and their jurisdictions they must follow, regardless if they are getting paid.

Pro Bono Salary

It may sound ironic since most pro bono lawyers work free of charge, however, many pro bono lawyers are able to earn money in specific situations. Occasionally, the case may start out as a pro bono case, but the lawyer may end up receiving payment for services later. This usually happens when there is a large cash settlement involved. Even then, judges are known to encourage the successful plaintiff to pay his or her lawyer.

Pro Bono Lawyer Job Outlook

We would be silly to think pro bono lawyers wouldn’t have work in five, ten or even fifty years. At some time or another, all of us need representation that we simply can’t afford. Lawyers who are willing to work pro bono cases have an easier time ‘making a name’ for themselves throughout their career. You probably don’t want the reputation of being cheap, however, knowing that you are able to help people who don’t have the financial means to fight accusations can be personally rewarding. If you are not interested in doing any more pro bono work than is required of you, check with your local bar association to learn the exact amount of hours needed each year.