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In Law, what is Pro Bono?

Nicole Madison
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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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 for free 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 because he or she believes in the in the person’s cause. The phrase comes from the Latin term pro bono publico, which 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 volunteer legal work per year. By contrast, some state bar associations recommend less. 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 free work.

Sometimes lawyers may begin on cases without charging a client, 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 such 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, they create waiting lists for individuals with certain types of cases or choose to prioritize cases, handling crisis situations first.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By anon302179 — On Nov 07, 2012

A short summary: The caregiver for our late mother is suing the family for extra hours that she had work for our mother. She was hired by in home support services and got paid for all work she has done. The county sent us a copy of everything.

She was hired by our late mother and got paid by in home support services. The caregiver's fiance has a lawyer friend in Los Angeles and they filed the case in L.A. County. Unfortunately, the lawyer is the friend of the judge in that court.

I live in San Jose, California, and know nothing about it. She and my mom, and my brother all live in L.A.

The amount is $4,000 and it's in small claims court, but the judge told my brother to have a lawyer just because they don't have anything to prove and they're all trying to make excuses and take money from us. We can't afford a lawyer and need help.

By anon292851 — On Sep 22, 2012

I have recently been trying to find a lawyer who could assist me in a murder trial. I am the star witness for the DEA only because I had no idea that this situation was going to end up in cold blooded murder.

I do not have the funds to hire a lawyer to speak on my behalf in court. I am willing to make payments if needed once the case is over. I will be attending court in november and really need some professional assistance with this case. If there is a pro bono lawyer out there looking for a way to get recognized, this could be their big opportunity to do so. The case is well known in Phenix City, Alabama, and was in the media for weeks.

The accused was captured and I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I hope that this reaches a attorney willing to go to bat for me and possibly save an innocent person from being incarcerated.

Any legal advice will be appreciated and acknowledged.

By anon271320 — On May 25, 2012

I had an attorney offer to take my case against my landlord himself. I put together all of the information: 10 folders, receipts, pictures. When he made the follow up appointment to discuss my case, he said my case had merit. He knew exactly what he would do. And the bad news is, I can't do it now. I am too busy. We got a big construction suit and I would not be able to get to it for maybe six months.

I could not believe my ears. I asked for the name of another attorney. He just threw up his hands and said no, I have no one. He wrote down two numbers for this state's ever useless "help" lines and told me to go to the court and get a "writ" and do it myself. This does not sound ethical to me.

By anon257548 — On Mar 27, 2012

My husband and I need legal help on a response to an appeal that has come back to us.

We at this time do not have extra funds to pay an attorney for something that just does not end. We are both on SS and I work a part time job and help out with the grandkids at no cost. Can someone please help us? We need your help to end all this once and for all.

By comfyshoes — On Sep 06, 2010

Cupcake15- That is really nice that law firms do that. Many law firms that do pro bono work also pick up discrimination cases.

I read about a case in which a pro bono law firm took on a case in which a client that was afflicted with HIV and was denied Social Security benefits because of their health status.

This type of work is really heart warming because if it wasn't for these the pro bono firms, many of these parties would have no other options and this is usually their last resort for help.

.

By cupcake15 — On Sep 06, 2010

BrickBack -Some of these pro bono legal aid services help people that have problems with landlords and living conditions of their apartments.

For example, the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation is a pro bono legal aid firm that provides legal representation for tenants that are unable to pay their rent or live in deplorable conditions that the landlords won’t fix.

Some of these apartments are rat infested and pose a health hazard to the tenants.

Some cases involve people that have lost their jobs and need to work out a mediation plan with their landlords. New York has some of the strictest laws with respect to renters, so it is often the landlords that are at a disadvantage.

This firm sometimes works out settlement agreements between the landlord and the tenant in order to avoid eviction. Tenets can not be evicted while their case in going on. This is a pro bono partnership that the firm has with the city.

By BrickBack — On Sep 06, 2010

Suntan12- Wow, I agree, a family law attorney should help. I wanted to add that there are many pro bono law firms that take on cases on moral grounds. The law firm of Arent Fox in Washington D.C. provides pro bon legal aid in numerous cases.

For example, there is one case that they are working on in which a 17 year old was convicted of first degree murder and the jury recommended life in prison.

The judge changed the jury recommendation and gave the minor the death penalty.

The pro bono attorney is working on getting his sentence changed to life in prison. He is encouraged by the recent Supreme Court Ruling that made execution of a prisoner that what was a minor when he or she committed the offense unconstitutional.

By suntan12 — On Sep 06, 2010

Anon24434- I am so sorry to hear about your situation with respect to your grandchildren. The best thing to do is to have your eldest son seek a family law attorney. He or she should be able to guide him on how to handle the situation.

The stability of the children is of the utmost importance.

Sometimes if the town is out of the county there might be restrictions placed on the mother, but it really depends on the custody agreement. I wish you luck on the situation and hope everything works out for your grandchildren.

By anon24434 — On Jan 12, 2009

My oldest son and his wife have been raising my youngest son's two girls all their lives basically for the last 4 or 5 months their mother has had them for 4 nights my oldest son has gave them a home food, clothing done everything as far as school for the oldest child if they need to go to a doctor then his wife takes them not their mother. They have given them their religious structure and just all around a stable life. their mother has met another man and now wants to take them and move to another town change her school etc. The oldest child is only 5 but she will tell you she does not want to live with her mom. I know that she is only 5 and will not be listened to even though children that age do not lie What is the recourse to take legally?

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison

Writer

Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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