About Pro Bono Cases

The term Pro Bono is derived from the Latin phrase, “pro bono publico.” Any type of act done for the good of the public can be considered pro bono. Most frequently the phrase is associated with legal situations where lawyers work for the good of a cause/client and without accepting much, if any, payment.

Pro bono law is an integral part of the U.S. legal system for many citizens. Normal attorney fees can range from $100-$400 per hour and more plus expenses. Private lawyers can also demand financial retainers to guarantee both availability and ability to prioritize a case. Retainers can be set at any amount deemed viable by each lawyer. The more successful the lawyer, the higher his or her retainer will likely be.


This is also true for higher case profiles and intensity. The higher the case profile and more intense the related preparation, the higher a retainer will likely be. Pro bono services are designed to help clients attain adequate legal representation otherwise beyond the scope of affordability. The American Bar Association (ABA) mandates every practicing attorney provide a minimum of fifty hours of pro bono services each year. Individual state bars can also impose additional pro bono requirements.

Certain criminal-case clients have a constitutional right to free legal representation. There are also pro bono attorneys trying cases for non-profit charities, children’s rights, environmental protection services and more. Pro bono law deals with a variety of legal scenarios where clients have a right to an attorney but are unable to afford one, and where lawyers believe in a cause or case to the point they accept it with little or no pay. Read ahead to learn more about pro bono cases, if your case qualifies and how to find the best pro bono attorney for your case today.

Pro Bono Attorneys for Criminal Cases

The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution entitles U.S. citizens the right to free legal representation to defend against criminal charges under specific conditions. The charges must bear the potential penalty of incarceration. The person being charged must be unable to pay for an attorney and applicable legal services on his or her own. The inability to pay must be sworn and documented via written affidavit. The affidavit must also indicate a lack of possessions or investments, which are consequently unable to be converted to payable funds. The request for an attorney to be provided by the state must usually happen within the subsequent twenty-four hours following an arrest, although exceptions can apply. Once the court verifies indigence, a public defender is appointed. 

Pros and Cons of Public Defenders

Being assigned a public defender is of great benefit for people who need a lawyer but cannot afford the fees. Another benefit is the assurance of a fair hearing and/or trial. Self-representation in criminal court is almost never a successful endeavor and public defenders understand how to navigate the legal system to win cases and/or get the best possible result. Public defenders are often inundated with many caseloads at once, however. They are therefore unable to put the same amount of time, research and care into a case as a similarly qualified private attorney. Proper communication and information between a client and public defender can make a significant difference in the outcome of a case.                                                                         

Other Types of Pro Bono Cases

Pro bono law is not limited to defending low-income criminal cases. Abandoned, neglected and abused children some times need representation in court. Cases involving workplace prejudice and discrimination can be handled pro bono. Environmental, agricultural and economics lawyers take on cases to defend against various violations, damages and affronts. These cases can involve oil spills, eminent domain issues, welfare fraud, abuse of civil rights and more. Some organizations providing pro bono legal services outside the realm of pure criminal defense cases include:

Why Attorneys Accept Pro Bono Cases

Attorneys accept pro bono cases when they believe in a client, cause or potential of victory. There are also positive public relations benefits associated with accepting pro bono cases. Taking a high-profile pro bono case can generate positive publicity, leading to increased business. Sometimes a new lawyer works pro bono to make a name for her or his self. 

There are also federal and state regulations dictating minimum pro bono service requirements. The ABA Model Rule 6.1 requires every practicing attorney in the United States to complete a minimum of fifty hours of pro bono work each year. Additionally, each U.S. state bar can impose its own pro bono requirements. New York solely and uniquely requires all law students to fulfill fifty pro bono hours prior to being permitted to apply for state bar admission.                                                  

How Are Pro Bono Cases Funded?

There are hidden costs and attorney-received benefits to accepting pro bono cases. Some pro bono cases are funded by delegating money from more lucrative cases to be used toward pro bono case expenses when providing free services to clients. Some are funded by county, state and federal monies, which are generated by taxpayer dollars. Private companies such as Pravati Capital are also in the business of financing litigation for cases with a high win probability.

Are There Any Fees Associated with Pro Bono Cases?

In some instances, a client receiving pro bono legal services must pay out-of-pocket expenses for his or her case. These expenses are usually nominal and can include filing fees, court costs and fines. Workers compensation and personal injury attorneys work pro bono until or unless the case is won. Once a case is won and monies awarded, workers compensation and personal injury attorneys do recoup expenses and collect pre-negotiated percentages.

Resources for Finding Pro Bono Attorneys

The ABA has multiple resources for finding pro bono attorneys. The U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. DOJ) also provides a comprehensive and downloadable resource guide. Some ABA and additional resources for finding pro bono attorneys include: