“Pro bono” derives from the Latin phrase pro bono publico, which means “for the public good.” The term is used within the legal profession to refer to lawyers’ provision of free legal services to those in need but otherwise without access to such services. While the kind of work that is considered to be “pro bono” may vary depending on local legal traditions, cultures or social backgrounds, pro bono can be deﬁned as having certain of the following characteristics:
A distinction can be drawn between pro bono and other free legal services available to those in need. For example, some people are eligible to have their legal problems serviced at their government’s expense through government-funded legal aid programs. Such work is not considered to be “pro bono” because the lawyer providing the service is paid to do so by the government. Another example involves situations in which those in need access free legal services provided by lawyers working at a law center or other non-proﬁt organization. Again, such work is not considered to be “pro bono” because the lawyer providing the service is paid to do so by the non-proﬁt organization. Finally, some lawyers may give free initial consultations to prospective clients. This is not considered to be “pro bono” because the lawyer is acting in his/ her own commercial interests to cultivate new fee-paying clients.
In Germany, the Frankfurt Pro Bono Roundtable deﬁnes pro bono as:
The provision of free legal advice for a good cause. Pro bono activities involve advising and representing charitable and non-proﬁt organizations, NGOs, foundations and persons of limited means, as well as a commitment to promoting due process and human rights. The intention behind pro bono work is for law ﬁrms to make their expertise and resources available for a good cause and, as such, to develop their civic commitment through their professional activities. Pro bono legal advice is subject to the same professional standards as paid-for legal advice.
In the United States, the American Bar Association (ABA) provides a non-binding model ethical code that individual bars at the state level are encouraged to adopt.
ABA Model Rule 6.1 deﬁnes pro bono as follows:
Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least ﬁfty (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year. In fulﬁlling this responsibility, the lawyer should:
A. provide a substantial majority of the 50 hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to:
(1) persons of limited means or
(2) charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means; and
B. provide any additional services through:
(1) delivery of legal services at no fee or substantially reduced fee to individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights, or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would signiﬁcantly deplete the organization’s economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate;
(2) delivery of legal services at a substantially reduced fee to persons of limited means; or
(3) participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.
In addition, a lawyer should voluntarily contribute ﬁnancial support to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.
In the United States, the Pro Bono Institute deﬁnes pro bono as activities that a ﬁrm undertakes normally without expectation of fee and not in the course of ordinary commercial practice and consisting of:
(1) the delivery of legal services to persons of limited means or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means;
(2) the provision of legal assistance to individuals, groups, or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights; and
(3) the provision of legal assistance to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental or educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would signiﬁcantly deplete the organization’s economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate.
A clearinghouse1) facilitates the efﬁcient provision of pro bono legal advice. It acts as an intermediary between people or organizations needing legal assistance and lawyers prepared and able to assist. By acting as a hub for the skills and expertise of the legal world, a pro bono clearinghouse provides NGOs, governments and/or individuals with an identiﬁable mechanism through which they can ﬁnd legal support. It provides access to an otherwise inaccessible service.
This manual provides deﬁnitions for the following terms. Although deﬁnitions vary, the manual will rely on the following understanding of each term when used throughout this publication.
A professional body representing, and in some cases regulating, all or part of the legal profession in relation to a speciﬁc jurisdiction.
An individual or organization acting as an intermediary between two individuals or entities, in this context a client and a lawyer. Clearinghouses are sometimes described as brokers.
An individual or organization receiving pro bono legal advice.
A letter provided by the lawyer to the client that sets out the relation- ship between them and what each can expect. This is also known as an appointment letter or retainer agreement.
Derives from the Latin indigere, “to lack,” and is used as an adjective to describe a person living in poverty or in need. It can also be used as a plural noun (“the indigent”) to describe such persons.
A legally qualiﬁed person providing legal advice, also known as an attorney, solicitor, barrister, or counsel, depending on the country and context.2)
A place where free legal information and advice on various areas of law is regularly provided. There are a variety of different legal clinic models. Some clinics provide advice on the spot, while others follow-up with advice at a later date. All should be supervised by qualiﬁed lawyers who may be employed by the clinic or may be volunteers.
The provision of free or subsidized legal advice or representation to people who cannot afford to pay for it, generally subsidized by government. It is different from pro bono services which are usually provided by lawyers who do not receive payment for their work.
Pro bono is not a substitute for legal aid. It is a necessary supplement because unmet legal needs exist in every society no matter how robust a state’s organized legal aid system. Governments usually have an obligation to fund and provide legal aid, and the availability of pro bono should not be an excuse to reduce or eliminate a legal aid system. Governments should work closely with clearinghouses to ensure that unmet legal needs are addressed.
A legal matter, which may be a case, legal research, or legal issue, that is referred to a lawyer or law ﬁrm.
A non-proﬁt organization that promotes justice or other social issues and that is fully independent from the government (though it may receive some government funding). Also known as independent organizations, charities, grassroots organizations, associations, private voluntary organizations, self-help organizations, civil society organizations, community groups, the Third Sector and non-state actors.
A clinic through which law students provide free legal and law-related services under the supervision of qualiﬁed legal professionals. The students’ work may be part of an assessed curriculum or it may be conducted on an extra-curricular basis.