The term pro bono is an abbreviation for pro bono publico, which has a Latin origin. It means ‘for the public good’. The term usually refers to free or low cost services that a professional offers to non-profit groups, charitable organizations or poverty-stricken clients.
Even though the term is used in different perspectives to mean ‘the offering of free services’, it has a particular implication to those in the legal profession. In the legal line of work, the word pro bono denotes to legal services performed at no cost for the public good. Unlike traditional volunteerism, pro bono facilities leverage the skills of legal professionals to help those who are not able to afford a lawyer.
Pro bono gained acceptance in the legal profession since lawyers are bound by moral and ethical rules to charge reasonable rates for their amenities and to work for public interest by providing free legal services to individuals in need.
These services help underserved people and marginalized communities, for example elderly and children that are denied access to justice. A lawyer’s free legal service to these types of individuals is labeled as pro bono service.
A pro bono legal counsel may help an individual or community on a legal case by filing government petitions or applications. A judge may sometimes determine that the loser should recompense a winning pro bono counsel.
Lawyers around the world have always donated some of their time to pro bono work but in the United States the need for legal services from individuals who are not able to pay for an attorney has developed since the 1960s.Earlier, lawyers donated their time on an ad hoc basis. The formation of legal aid organizations to help indigent individuals in the 1960s reformed the way attorneys got pro bono work. Lawyers who were not able to meet all the legal needs of underprivileged people, created programs to hire private lawyers willing to donate some portion of their time. These programs hire attorneys and train them to cope with common types of cases.
Many countries around the globe encourage lawyers and potential lawyers to establish a habit of engaging in pro bono work while in law school and to bring this habit forward as they switch to practice. Since 2002, numerous law schools and law firms have celebrated a Pro Bono Week every year which motivates barristers and solicitors to provide pro bono services. It also helps to increase general awareness of pro bono amenities. Lawyers in the United States are suggested under American Bar Association (ABA) ethical instructions to contribute at least fifty hours of pro bono service each year. Moreover, lawyers in South Korea are required to do as a minimum 30 hours of pro bono work.
The need for legal services among the unfortunate is overwhelming. At least 40% of moderate-income and low households experience a legal problem every year, according to an American Bar Association study. So far the studies show that the collective public aid effort is meeting just about 20% of the legal needs of low-income individuals.
It is considered a professional responsibility of each lawyer to provide legal services to those who are not able to pay. Under ABA Model Rule 6.1, a lawyer must seek to render at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services each year. However, certain law firms and local bar associations may vouch for more or fewer hours of pro bono service. Several paralegal associations and law firms also recommend that paralegals take out time to do certain number of pro bono hours every year.
A number of bar associations have pro bono programs operated by lawyers who have approved to provide legal representation to eligible clients at no or low cost. One may qualify based on salary or other factors such as being an abused spouse, having AIDS or being elderly. As with legal service programs one may have to prove their income levels along with the value of their assets.
The good of pro bono lawyers: “You get great experience. As a first-year attorney, yes, you will get opportunities but you will also get a lot of paperwork. So, I just went and told my boss that I wanted this immigration pro bono case. In addition to getting a client protection in this country, I was able to learn a lot about being an attorney a lot more quickly than I would have if I hadn’t done this pro bono work”, says Devon Myers, a pro bono manager.
There are countless benefits of pursuing pro bono opportunities while studying in law schools or working in law firms. Following are some of the benefits:
1. Big helping hand for poverty-stricken individuals: First and foremost, pro bono work mostly benefits those who other are not able to pay to secure legal representation. Study after study has proved that poor Americans find it hard to secure quality representation in the pricey legal system.
Deprived of hundreds of thousands of pro bono hours delivered by lawyers, countless more would live by without the help they are in need of.
2. Increased job satisfaction: Pro bono work can increase job satisfaction. Several lawyers enjoy and take advantage from the opportunity to make a social input in this way.
As a result, retention rates increase as lawyers get more diverse work. More control over their work and more satisfaction.
3. Firm development: Many firms have revealed the benefits of pro bono work. It is an efficient and reasonable way for the firm to professionally grow its young lawyers. The nature of several pro bono cases usually puts young associates in challenging and new situations.
This more rapidly makes the lawyer a valuable attorney who can manage complex matters with high-paying clients. Simply, pro bono work is a win-win for any firm.
4. Helpful for the lawyer: 25% of the respondents testified that they were either slightly dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the practice of law, according to ABA Young Lawyers Division Career Satisfaction Survey (2000).
Pro bono work may offer a partial answer to the career fatigue of law firm lawyers.
Helping or representing needy clients with essential legal matters provides lawyers with sense of purpose and connectedness, convincing them that their efforts matter and that they are capable enough to make a change in their community.
5. Confidence and skill development: With pro bono work, lawyers and others develop their managerial and legal skills. The insight that pro bono work will turn them into more skilled lawyers can be just as significant an inspiring factor as their social justice promise, specifically for young and potential lawyers.
Lawyers cultivate confidence as they identify their abilities to assist clients and improve their skills.
Chairman of the Bar Council Nicholas Lavender QC stated, “It is truly impressive to see so many barristers giving so freely of their time and efforts to make a difference for people who are unable to speak for themselves or to pay for legal representation. It is the clearest possible demonstration of the profession’s commitment to justice and to access to justice.”
LawWorks cooperates with a vast amount of law firms, showing how seriously pro bono is seen in leading firms. Lawyers also donate part of their time to pro bono and the Bar Pro Bono Unit co-ordinates the contributing organizations.
In recent times, the significance of pro bono work has increased drastically. The existing name for the Solicitors’ Pro Bono Group, LawWorks, gives awards to students and practitioners to Identify and acknowledge their effort and contribution.
The bad of pro bono lawyers: A number of experts agree that, while the idea of offering pro bono work was a commendable ideal for the profession, such an objective must not come at the expense of lawyers’ own welfare. Those who were from small firms and had served needy clients at low or free cost felt the change engaged an unfair burden on them.
It has been claimed that mandatory pro bono rules overlook the special plight of the solo practitioner or small firm, who regularly continue to work low bono or pro bono at cheap rates for fixed clients who are not able to pay for legal services. These types of clients often do not count as pro bono since the work is not completely free of cost.
Some lawyers pointed out the stress, with regard to money, time and family/personal responsibilities. Those extra pro bono hours would put on their already occupied and packed caseload.
Lawyers from all parts of practice recognize the prominence of pro bono. As a student wanting to pursue a legal career, representing you have been involved with the law on a charitable level, way before qualification, can only be seen as worthy.
If each and every lawyer would take only one pro bono case, so many underprivileged would get the access to justice they badly need and lawyers would get some of the best legal training and re-invigoration of their entire career beforehand.