What Is Pro Bono?

Definition & Examples of Pro Bono?

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Pro bono refers to donating professional work for the public good, and it's often linked with legal work.

Find out more about what pro bono work entails in the legal profession.

What Is Pro Bono?

The term pro bono comes from the latin phrase pro bono publico, which translates to "for the public good." It usually describes legal services performed free of charge or at reduced fees for those who need it. Pro bono cases and services leverage the skills of legal professionals to help those who are unable to afford lawyers.

The need for pro bono work is evident: In 2017, 86% of low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help for civil legal problems.

How Do Pro Bono Legal Services Work?

All state and local bar associations have pro bono committees where attorneys can volunteer their time. Pro bono services help marginalized communities and underserved populations that are often denied access to justice due to lack of income.

Lawyers might also privately accept cases pro bono, meaning that they won't charge a client in need for their services, or they'll accept a significantly lower fee.

They might also provide legal assistance or financial resources to organizations that promote social causes, such as preventing domestic violence or even ecological issues.

In addition, lawyers can devote time and effort to improving or amending the law or the legal system, such as through lobbying.

Pro Bono Requirements for Lawyers

Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those who are unable to pay. Under American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rule 6.1, a lawyer should aspire to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services per year.

Most state bars impose their own requirements, and many mirror ABA Rule 6.1 with a standard of 50 pro bono hours per year. Some law firms and local bar associations might recommend fewer or more hours of pro bono service. Many law firms and paralegal associations recommend that paralegals also perform a certain number of pro bono hours per year.

Key Takeaways

  • Pro bono work is often linked with the legal profession, and it means donating legal services and resources to help those who can't afford them.
  • The term pro bono comes from the latin phrase pro bono publico, which translates to "for the public good."
  • The American Bar Association holds lawyers responsible for providing at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services per year.

Article Sources

  1. Legal Services Corporation. "Justice Gap Report." Accessed June 27, 2020.

  2. American Bar Association. "ABA Model Rule 6.1." Accessed June 27, 2020.

  3. American Bar Association. "Supporting Justice." Page 3. Accessed June 27, 2020.

  4. American Bar Association. "Paralegals." Accessed June 27, 2020.