In law, the term pro bono refers to legal work that is performed voluntarily and free of charge. A lawyer may take on a legal case pro bono for a good cause. For example, if an individual has a viable case, but no money to retain a lawyer, a lawyer may agree to take on the case pro bono because he or she believes in the in the person’s cause. The phrase pro bono comes from the Latin term: pro bono publico. This phrase means for the public good. When a lawyer works pro bono, he or she is said to be working for the public good.
In the United States, many lawyers provide pro bono legal services each year. The American Bar Association’s ethical rules recommend that lawyers provide a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono legal work per year. By contrast, some state bar associations recommend less pro bono work. City bar associations may have recommendations similar to those offered by the American Bar Association or they may choose to recommend a different amount of pro bono work.
Sometimes lawyers may begin on cases pro bono, but receive payment for their services later. This may happen in cases involving large cash settlements. At the end of such a case, the judge may encourage the successful plaintiff to pay his or her lawyer.
An example of a pro bono situation is a government-funded legal aid program. Lawyers may contribute a certain number of hours to these programs, providing legal representation and advice to those in need. Typically, such legal programs have strict income requirements, taking on clients who are lower in income. Often, they agree to help with certain types of cases, such as family law, landlord-tenant, and consumer-law cases.
The American Bar Association maintains a list of legal organizations that provide pro bono help in the United States. It is also possible to find pro bono lawyers and legal organizations via the Internet and local bar associations. It is worth noting that some organizations are inundated with requests for legal help on a regular basis. As such, some pro bono organizations create waiting lists for individuals with certain types of cases or choose to prioritize cases, handling crisis situations first.
The unmet civil legal needs of the commonwealth’s poor are enormous. As such, Pennsylvania’s legal community uses many different approaches to meet those needs. To begin with, pro bono programs exist at the local level across the state, reflecting a partnership between local bar associations, local legal services providers and statewide specialty programs. Pro bono referrals, reduced-fee representation (low bono), pro se clinics, partnerships with other service providers and fund raising for legal-services programs are among the many ways Pennsylvania lawyers fulfill their obligation to give back to the community by helping to meet the civil legal needs of the poor. In addition, lawyers provide free and reduced-fee civil legal aid to the needy outside of such programs and in counties where no organized programs are established.
PBA members do far more than just provide representation and advice each year to the thousands who would otherwise have their access to justice blocked — they also screen and refer clients; recruit, train, mentor and honor volunteers; prepare educational and pro se materials; and lead fundraising efforts.