What Does Pro Bono Mean?

There is a Latin term that means “for the public good.” It is known as “pro bono.” Though it is used in a wide variety of contexts, the term is usually used in reference to the legal profession, as it is a major tenet in the American Bar Association’s code of conduct. It essentially means to offer a service at no or low cost, and it has become a practice that many nonprofit organizations and individuals in need rely on. Keep reading to learn more about such work, along with the benefits it offers society.

Model Rules of Professional Conduct

It is in Rule 6.1 of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct that you will find a call for attorneys to provide free and affordable services to those in need. The very first sentence of that rule makes its intentions clear when it says, “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” More detailed specifications are laid out regarding the amount of time to be given, as well as the kinds of populations and causes they should serve.

Recipients of Services

For example, the rule states that legal professionals should plan to dedicate at least 50 hours per year in free or pro rated services. The great majority of these hours are supposed to be at no cost and without expectation of payment. In addition, individuals in need or organizations that serve such individuals should be the primary recipients of volunteer work. The type of work that is most valued under Rule 6.1 is that which defends civil liberties or other valued rights of those who most require protection. It is also strongly advised that lawyers seek to provide assistance to organizations or agencies whose budgets would be sorely depleted through payment of legal services.

Benefits to Professionals

It is strongly believed in the legal profession that lawyers are quite privileged to possess the skills and knowledge that they do and that they hold a great deal of responsibility to help others with that expertise. Through the pursuit of Pro Bono work, lawyers are encouraged to pursue justice for those who are unable to do so on their own. Such acts of giving are meant to improve upon society in some manner.

Of course, the individuals or groups who are being served receive benefit from this service. However, the overall benefits are far greater than to those receiving the service. Legal students are exposed to the concept of such activities in law school. They are usually required to take part in some amount of volunteer work. The student benefits through the opportunity to practice their newly learned skills in a real-life environment. They are exposed to the types of clients they will work with upon graduating and passing the bar exam. They also receive an up close an personal look at the legal system. Practicing lawyers continue to benefit from this type of volunteering through making professional connections and developing a positive reputation within the community, along with the satisfaction of doing good.

To do work and provide benefit to those who cannot afford to pay is a concept that carries a long tradition in the legal profession. Pro Bono work benefits society at large, as it demonstrates the importance of the pursuit of justice, especially for the most vulnerable.

You might also like: 5 Great Movies About Court Cases