Why is pro bono work necessary for lawyers? This query is not clear-cut or straightforward. Like the legal profession itself, it is a complex and intricate issue. To better understand the concept, this blog will provide an overview of pro bono work and its importance to the legal profession.
The term “pro bono” is derived from the Latin expression “pro bono publico,” which translates to “for the public good.” Meaning, acting in the best interest of the public or for the community. The American Bar Association (ABA), a voluntary organization whose mission is to serve its members and the public by eliminating bias, delivering justice, and defending liberty as the national representative of the legal profession, has established guidelines for legal professionals regarding pro bono work via the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
Under these Model Rules, it is recommended that attorneys should offer their legal services and expertise–without fee or contingency–on a pro bono basis at least 50 hours per year. Specifically, these legal services should be provided to vulnerable populations, people of limited means, low-income individuals, and nonprofit organizations that represent as well as serve the disadvantaged and poor.
These same guidelines also acknowledge that only lawyers and legal-trained personnel have the knowledge as well as skills needed to procure justice for low-income individuals, whose legal needs are abundant and often underserved. This is why most states have an ethical rule that stipulates attorneys should render pro bono services.
While the ABA has refrained from making pro bono services mandatory, it is a strongly recommended and honored practice in nearly every state. In many cases, legal professionals will offer their pro bono services voluntarily to disadvantaged and compromised clients, in many aspects of law, depending on the circumstances involved. If pro bono services are not offered, a client can inquire whether they qualify for such services. This is especially true if the circumstances of their case or the client’s financial status change.
It is also important to note that not only practicing attorneys perform pro bono work, but many other legal professionals can also render such services. Other legal-trained personnel, such as law students, paralegals, legal researchers, judges, and retired or former legal professionals, may also provide services to needy clients via non-profit organizations, legal aid, law clinics, etc. In fact, many law schools have mandatory pro bono work requirements in order to graduate. The reason for this requirement harkens back to the central question of this blog.
Simply put, pro bono work is important for lawyers and other legal professionals because it reinforces the moral as well as the ethical imperative of service for the public good. Moreover, it allows law students to hone their craft, practice their interactions with clients, and refine their professional persona. Furthermore, it provides the legal staff with the opportunity to interact with a wide array of individuals whom they might not otherwise encounter.