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.