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Pro Bono: Free Legal Services In US Pro Bono: Free Legal Services In US

Bronze medal Reporter adv.John Posted 7 Feb 2019
Pro Bono: Free Legal Services In US

The term "pro bono" comes from the Latin pro bono publico, which means "for the public good." The ABA defines the parameters of pro bono for performing lawyers in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.  Model Rule 6.1 states that lawyers should aim to render--without fee--at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year, with an importance that these services be provided to people of limited means or non-profit organizations that serve the poor. The rule identifies that only lawyers have the special skills and knowledge wanted to secure access to justice for low-income people, whose enormous unmet legal needs are well documented. Almost every state has an ethical rule that calls upon lawyers to render pro bono services.

In the law school setting, pro bono normally refers to student provision of voluntary, law-related services to people of limited means or to community-based non-profit organizations, for which the student does not take academic credit or pay.

The Need for Pro Bono Service

 Pro bono opportunities obtainable by law schools teach students that for the economically disadvantaged, the inability to get legal services for basic needs can have dire consequences. Students learn first-hand that for many people, pro bono legal assistance is vital to keep up minimum levels of basic needs such as government benefits, income, shelter, utilities, child support and physical protection. The special skills students develop during law school can significantly advantage the underprivileged and bridge the rapidly growing gap between the legal needs of those who cannot meet the expense of legal services and the resources available to meet those needs.


Pro Bono Opportunities in Law School

Some schools have designated pro bono packages, staffed by professionals who service match students with outside organizations that do pro bono work. Other schools provide administrative support for student groups involved in pro bono work while others lack an organized school-wide program but depend on student groups to form and run projects. Typically, the openings cover a wide range of legal needs, such as family law, children's issues, consumer fraud, AIDS-related problems, housing, immigration, taxation, environmental law, criminal defence, elder law and death penalty appeals. 

At least 39 law schools require students to engage in pro bono or public service as a condition of graduation. These schools may have need of a specific number of hours of pro bono legal service as a condition of graduation (e.g. 20-75 hours) or they may need a combination of pro bono legal service, clinical work and community-based volunteer work. Law schools with voluntary rather than mandatory pro bono service policies inspire students to assist lawyers and legal aid organizations by offering incentives, such as awards at graduation or special notations on law school trans c r i p ts, or by creating pro bono an important part of a school's culture.

Benefits of Pro Bono Programs in Law School

Pro bono programs benefit students to develop professionalism and an understanding of a lawyer's responsibility to the community. Participation facilitates student involvement in the community and raises the availability of legal services to needy populations. Students also advantage by increasing their knowledge and marketability, gaining practical experience, developing skills, enhancing their reputations and exploring alternative career openings.

Support for Pro Bono and Public Service in Law School

A number of organizations support for pro bono and public service in law school, including the ABA Center for Pro Bono, PSJD, Equal Justice Works, and the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

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