Law firms often do pro bono work as a way to help out in their communities and foster goodwill toward the law profession. Once you are working as an attorney, you will occasionally be asked to take a pro bono case. Here’s everything you need to know about pro bono work.
The phrase, “pro bono” is actually a shortened version of a Latin phrase. “Pro bono publico” means, “for the good of the public.” The phrase is typically associated with the free work that attorneys and law firms do to serve people who cannot afford to pay for legal services.
Most attorneys donate dozens of hours in pro bono work every year. This practice is not specifically required, but is strongly suggested by professional organizations such as the American Bar Association, as well as state and local bar associations. The American Bar Association recommends that lawyers donate 50 hours of pro bono work per year.
There are two types of attorneys—those who serve the public, such as public defenders and prosecutors, and those who work in private practice. It has long been the case that attorneys in private practice earn a much higher income than those in the public sector. As such, there’s an unspoken agreement that those who benefit more financially from practicing law in the private sector will donate more of their time to members of the public who can’t afford to pay.
In addition to staying in good standing with the legal community, lawyers who do pro bono work have the added benefit of gaining a good reputation in the public eye. Lawyers continually rank as one of the top few careers that the general public dislikes; doing good works is one way to change the pre-conceived notions that people have about the morality and respectability of lawyers.
Attorneys frequently report that they enjoy working on pro bono cases. For some, these cases provide a different type of work than normal. The variety allows attorneys the opportunity to gain valuable experience in a different field of law, and to work with a variety of different people. Pro bono work can be very satisfying—you have the chance to feel as if you’ve made a difference in a client’s life.
Most law firms dedicate a specific number of hours per year to a charity or non-profit with whom they’ve worked for many year. Legal work can be done for the organization itself, or for individuals referred to the firm through the organization. Law firms also work with legal services organizations to provide pro bono work to members of the general public.