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Pro Bono Work Benefits Clients and Lawyers Alike: Here's Why

published April 08, 2023

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( 18 votes, average: 4.8 out of 5)
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Pro Bono work can be very beneficial to both the client and the practitioner, however, it must be done properly in order for it to be a beneficial experience for everybody involved. Pro Bono work is best described as a type of legal assistance that is provided for free or at a lower cost to people who otherwise cannot afford legal counsel. It motivates the practitioner to do the best job they can because it is something that they can be passionate about.

The value of pro bono work is not just that it is an opportunity to serve the community, but it also has many benefits to the professional practitioner. Pro Bono work is an ideal situation to gain experience in areas of the law that the practitioner may not have experience in. It is also a great opportunity to get to know the nuances of the law which is a valuable asset no matter the field. Additionally, pro bono work provides a chance to display leadership, dedication, and commitment to a cause.

The key to successful pro bono work is to ensure that it is done properly and ethically. When a practitioner agrees to do pro bono work, they must be clear about their expectations and capabilities. It is important to understand the scope of work that is being agreed to and to choose clients who are thoughtful and appreciative of the professional's time and efforts. Practitioners should also be aware of their own boundaries as this will help ensure that the client's needs are met as well as their own ethical requirements.

Pro Bono work can be a very rewarding experience for both the practitioner and the client. It can provide an opportunity for the practitioner to use their skills and expertise to make a difference in somebody else's life, while also getting to know the nuances of the law. However, it is important that it is done properly. The practitioner must be clear on their expectations and capabilities, as well as their own boundaries. This will ensure that the client's needs are met while also following ethical and legal requirements. Pro Bono work can be beneficial to both the practitioner and the client in more ways than one.

What is Pro Bono Work?

Pro bono work is legal services that are rendered on behalf of those who may otherwise be unable to afford them. This type of work is typically provided by attorneys on a volunteer basis, free of charge. The purpose of this type of work is to provide access to justice for underserved communities or those who cannot afford the services of a lawyer. Pro bono work is an important concept in the legal field and is seen as an expression of the lawyer's charitable nature.

History of Pro Bono Work

The practice of providing legal services on a volunteer basis dates back to the late 19th century. It was first developed as an effort by the legal profession to give back to their local community. The term “pro bono” was first used in the early 20th century and is derived from the Latin phrase pro bono publico, which translates to “for the public good”. Today, pro bono work has become an integral part of the legal profession, with many governments and organizations offering incentives to encourage attorneys to provide free legal services to those who may not be able to afford them.

Benefits of Pro Bono Work

Pro bono work is beneficial for both the lawyer and the client. For the lawyer, it can provide a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, knowing that they are helping people who need it. Additionally, pro bono work can provide attorneys with an opportunity to gain experience and hone their skills in a variety of areas of law. For the client, pro bono services can provide access to justice that they may not otherwise have, as well as the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their legal issues are being taken care of.

Organizations Engaging in Pro Bono

There are many organizations that offer pro bono services, such as law firms, legal aid clinics, and various non-profit organizations. Additionally, many state and local governments have pro bono programs, which provide attorneys with the opportunity to serve their community. Additionally, some bar associations, such as the American Bar Association (ABA), offer pro bono programs and resources for lawyers who are interested in providing pro bono services.

Legal Profession's Duty to Serve

Pro bono work has been a long-standing tradition within the legal profession, and many attorneys take it upon themselves to provide legal services to those who may not be able to afford them. This is seen as a way for lawyers to fulfill their ethical responsibility to serve the needs of their community and provide access to justice for all people. In addition, many organizations such as the ABA have created incentives for attorneys who engage in pro bono work in an effort to encourage lawyers to provide these services.

The lofty but curiously altruistic acts by attorneys take place not just during the holidays but year round. But the fact of the matter is that the demand for attorney services far exceeds the supply.

"Our best estimate is about 25 percent of the poor or those in need of legal services in this state are able to access them when they need them," said Sharon E. Goldsmith, an attorney and executive director of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.

"Frankly, it's very difficult to get a good handle on people who are in need, because if they are not getting those services, we wouldn't know about them. But for many people, it's out of their reach," Ms. Goldsmith said.

The Baltimore-based Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland is a statewide coordinator of volunteer legal services. It acts as a clearinghouse for attorneys, matching a court practitioner to a person or organization in need of his or her expertise.

"Contested, domestic cases—divorce, child custody—can go on for years, so lawyers are sometimes putting in, literally, sometimes hundreds of hours; so even if you are only charging $50 an hour—if you are putting 200 hours in a case—it gets expensive," Ms. Goldsmith said.

On Dec. 11, the Illinois State Bar Association postponed a vote on requiring its lawyers to report annually how much pro bono work they do. Members of that association voiced concerns that the proposal may someday lead to mandatory pro bono work.

"In the context of appointments to represent indigent criminal defendants, I have, in the past, heard a lawyer or two complain of involuntary servitude," said Robert D. Segall, president-elect of the Alabama State Bar Association.

According to the American Bar Association, arguments against mandatory reporting of pro bono work—a requirement that already exists in Florida, Maryland, Nevada, and Indiana—include arguments that it violates the constitutional right to privacy.

"Some lawyers may not have the time; others may not practice in the areas in which there is a need for pro bono services. Lawyers who fall in these categories should contribute money toward the provision of free legal services," Mr. Segall said.

"The 'obligation' to perform pro bono work is instilled into lawyers beginning in law school, through bar associations, through courses and talks on professionalism, and from peers."

Other arguments listed by the ABA against mandatory reporting include the fear that the public and the press would use the information to shame lawyers into doing pro bono work—an argument advocates of the requirement also seem to share.

"Our firm feels that it is the obligation of each lawyer to do pro bono work, but each lawyer decides for himself or herself what he or she will do on a pro bono basis," said Mr. Segall, an attorney with Copeland, Franco, Screws & Gill in Montgomery, AL.

Maryland's highest court created a commission in 1998 to study the amount of pro bono work being performed in that state. Instead of making pro bono work mandatory, the court asked attorneys to "aspire" to perform 50 hours of pro bono service annually.

"Some of them were reluctant. The only thing that's required right now in Maryland is that attorneys report their pro bono hours per year—and they can report 'zero,' " said Janet S. Eveleth, director of communications for the Maryland State Bar Association.

In 2002, according to the latest figures available, the nearly 20,000 attorneys in Maryland donated more than one million hours of their time to provide legal services for those who could not afford it and gave nearly $2.21 million to the less fortunate.

"Lawyers who have practiced longer tend to engage in more pro bono service. And those who concentrate on family law, general law, and employment law tend to provide the most pro bono hours," Ms. Eveleth said.

In that study, half of the attorneys in the state at the time offered pro bono services, with 51 percent of the attorneys who responded offering pro bono services to those with limited means, and 13 percent offering their services to pro bono organizations.

"There are some who are reluctant, who feel 'coerced' into doing pro bono work. But most attorneys, once they start a pro bono case, really enjoy it. That's the feedback we're getting from the attorneys. They really find the work rewarding," Ms. Eveleth said.

Stephen J. Nolan, a Baltimore, MD, attorney, has handled a number of special education cases pro bono, involving low-income families concerned about their children's educational needs.

"It's been believed for years that lawyers have a professional responsibility to provide free and 'reduced-fee' legal services to people who can't afford it," said Mr. Nolan, chairman of the board of directors of the American Lung Association of Maryland. "And it really is a 'two-way street.' Not only does the public benefit, but the lawyers benefit because there is a tremendous amount of satisfaction from helping someone access the legal system who otherwise couldn't afford it."

Maryland Legal Services Corp. had conducted a news assessment in 1988 and found that more than a million poor or indigent residents did not have access to legal services; the corporation channels federal funding for legal services to pro bono work providers.

"My philosophy has always been that a lawyer who represents a low-income person should deliver the same quality of legal work that they would provide any paying client," Mr. Nolan said.

"A lot of times we're asked to take on cases where there's little chance of success, but success is defined in many ways, and if you can make a difference for someone and get them a little bit of relief, that is still a positive outcome."

published April 08, 2023

( 18 votes, average: 4.8 out of 5)
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