An attorney can charge clients hundreds of dollars per hour. It can cost a person thousands of dollars to handle his or her legal case. The expense of hiring a lawyer can be more than some people can or are willing to afford.
Rather than forgo the legal services that you need, you could consider hiring a pro bono lawyer. You can decide if this kind of attorney is the right choice for your case by learning what pro bono lawyers are and what kinds of legal services that they offer to clients.
What is a Pro Bono Lawyer?
Pro bono is a Latin term that translates as “for the public good.” It is most often applied to the legal industry and in particular to lawyers who agree to take on legal cases on behalf of low income or at-risk clients at no cost to them.
Lawyers who take pro bono cases can be either private practice attorneys or attorneys who work for law firms. They also can volunteer their time with or work for a legal aid program in their state.
The attorneys who work pro bono are admitted to the state bar and are fully licensed and able to represent clients in their city or state. Because they work for free, many pro bono lawyers only take on one or two free cases each year. They cannot afford to take too many pro bono cases if they want to make money with which to support themselves and their families.
The cases that pro bono attorneys take are worked alongside the cases that they have from private paying clients. The fact that they are not getting paid for the pro bono cases does not negate the quality of work that they provide, however. They are ethically and legally bound to provide high-quality services for clients whether they get paid or not.
Lawyers who work for the public defender’s office or legal aid society are sometimes compensated for their expenses from municipal or state funds allotted to that program. However, they do not collect fees from the clients that they represent, allowing them to technically fulfill the definition of being pro bono attorneys.
What Kinds of Cases Do Pro Bono Lawyers Take?
Pro bono attorneys can agree to take on just about any kind of legal case. Criminal defense awyers who work for public defender’s offices routinely handle criminal matters like:
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Aggravated assault
- Robbery or burglary
- Rape or sexual assault
Aside from criminal matters, pro bono lawyers also commonly take cases dealing with:
- Child custody and support
- Probate matters
- Estate planning
- Housing disputes
- Contract law
- Employment disputes
- Denial of government benefits
In general, attorneys who work pro bono only take cases that fall within their chosen legal specialties. A bankruptcy atttorney, for example, will not represent someone for free, if at all, in a criminal matter.
Likewise, they primarily take cases that they have experience in and are qualified to argue in court. If they have never before taken a case to federal court, they could be less willing to take on a case that must be argued at the federal level. Likewise, if they have never handled a divorce case, they could be reticent to represent someone for free in the matter.
Last, they generally want to take cases that they can win. Even with pro bono cases, lawyers are mindful of their win-loss records. The outcome of their pro bono cases will reflect on the experience that they can tout to clients who will hire and pay them for their services in the future.
How Do You Find a Pro Bono Lawyer?
You can find a pro bono lawyer by using several methods. The first option that you have is to call your state bar association and ask for a referral. The state bar will generally give out referrals for pro bono attorneys at no cost to the public.
If you are facing jail time, you have the right to have a pro bono attorney appointed to you. The court will appoint you a public defender to represent you in your criminal matter. In most cases, you do not have to pay for any of the services provided to you.
You also can go to a free legal clinic in your area, which are most often held at universities and libraries. Lawyers who are willing to work pro bono attend these clinics and vet cases that they can handle at no cost for clients.
Your last option is to contact a university law school and ask it if provides free legal services. Many law students provide limited legal services to the public. They are supervised closely by their law professors and handle cases like probate matters or collection disputes.
Why Do Lawyers Work Pro Bono?
If lawyers do not get paid for their services, why would they agree to take on legal cases at no cost? The answer revolves around the oath that they take when they are sworn into the state bar association.
When they are admitted to the state bar, lawyers promise in their oath to help the less fortunate in society. The way that they fulfill this part of their promise is by taking cases pro bono when possible.
It should be noted, however, that public defenders and attorneys who work for legal aid societies are paid for their services through funds that are allocated to these programs. They collect either a flat or hourly rate. However, they cannot charge or collect payments from the clients that they represent.
Law students who work for their university law clinics volunteer their services to gain real-life work experience. They are most in their last year at school and need to get on-the-job experience that they can put on their resumes and take with them when they venture into private practice or apply for jobs at law firms. Working cases for free gives them the knowledge and skills that they will need to represent clients later in their careers.
Pro bono attorneys give clients access to legal services that people otherwise would not be able to afford. Lawyers are willing to take on a variety of cases on occasion at no cost to clients. They do pro bono work to fulfill their oath to their state bar associations and provide a better good to society.