FAQ: Pro Bono Services Explained

The phrase pro bono was coined from a Latin term, “pro bono publico.” The term means “for the benefit of the public.” Though the term is generally used to indicate a lawyer providing free legal services, it carries a different meaning to lawyers. Here is a look at some of the frequently asked questions about pro bono services.

Are Lawyers Supposed To Provide Pro Bono Services?

According to Rule 6.1 of the American Bar Association’s rules, attorneys are obligated to engage in pro bono work. Every lawyer is legally obligated to offer legal services to those who are unable to pay. An attorney should aim at providing 50 hours of pro bono legal aid annually. In accomplishing this obligation, the attorney should:

A. Provide a majority of 50 hours of legal services free of charge to:

  • People with limited means

  • Charitable, civic, religious, educational, and governmental organizations in issues meant to address the needs of people with limited means

B. Provide additional services by:

  • Delivering legal services for free or for a significantly low cost to people, groups, or organizations that want to protect or secure civil rights, liberties, or public rights.

  • Delivering legal services for free or for a significantly low fee to charitable, civic, religious, governmental, educational, and community organizations in matters involving the furtherance of their organizational goals, where paying a standard legal fee would deplete the organization’s economic resources or be inappropriate

  • Delivering legal services at a low cost to people with limited means

  • Participating in activities that improve the law, legal system, or legal profession

When Can a Lawyer Turn Down An Appointment For Pro Bono Work?

The law holds that the only time pro bono attorneys can avoid appointment to represent an individual is where:

  • Representing the individual goes against professional ethics

  • Representing the individual will result in an enormous financial burden

  • The cause or client is repugnant to the attorney and will affect the client-attorney relationship

What Cases Qualify For Pro Bono Services?

Generally, pro bono cases cover all cases provided there is no expectation of compensation. Legal aid refers to work that has been screened and referred by a competent legal service provider. Furthermore, pro bono representation does not always mean direct, full representation, or court appearances. An attorney engaging in legal aid may simply do legal research, or draft pleadings, or even commit to part of the proceedings without full court representation.

Qualifying For Legal Aid or Pro Bono Attorneys

A pro bono or legal aid attorney can help you with your legal service needs but there may be some requirements that allow you to be eligible to receive legal aid. Some of these factors include income, health status, your location, your safety, and also whether the case is civil or criminal in nature. If you were accused of committing a crime, you may else be eligible to receive legal aid through a court appointed attorney or public defender if you face the possibility of being incarcerated.