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Pro Bono for Small Firms and Solos: 5 Ways to Make It Work for You

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

You know of pro bono. You did some of that in law school: you know, providing free legal services to people who can't afford them. But now that you're working, you wonder, "Hey, whatever happened to pro bono work?"

If you work in BigLaw, there's usually a dedicated pro bono coordinator, but if you're at a small firm, medium firm, or if you're a solo practitioner, the onus is on you to go seek out those pro bono opportunities.

Sure, you can always go down to Legal Aid, but where else can you find pro bono work? As it turns out, there are a lot of pro bono opportunities that you may not have known about. Here are five ways to fit pro bono work into your practice:

1. Federal Court.

It's not just state court clients who need representation; there's federal court, too. As we blogged about in April, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida sent out a memo calling for pro bono attorneys to help with pro se litigation. Pro se litigants in federal court are usually state prisoners challenging their convictions on federal habeas corpus or are filing federal civil rights complaints. State prisoners need all the help they can get, especially when it comes to habeas petitions.

2. Large Nonprofit Organizations.

It's not just legal aid organizations from around town that could use some pro bono help. Even large organizations with staff attorneys like the ACLU use assistance from pro bono and volunteer attorneys.

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3. It's Not Just Litigation.

If you're looking to do pro bono work with a nonprofit, keep in mind that litigation is just one of your options. Nonprofits are also looking for people to help with transactional work, as well as with research projects. These are excellent options for your already busy life, especially if you're not sure you can dedicate more time to brief-writing or appearances.

4. It's Not Just Lawyering.

Nobody said that you have to provide legal services in the strictest sense of the word. As the ABA Journal has pointed out, "pro bono legal service has taken many forms." This includes serving on boards of charity organizations or local committees, like your local school board. Basically, as the ABA Journal noted, "the new face of pro bono" now includes non-legal work that benefits the community at large, where you can apply your legal mindset and skills to a non-legal field.

5. Don't Fence Yourself In.

Why is it just people in the city who get pro bono services? Organizations like New York's Rural Law Center provide pro bono legal services to people in rural counties, and those folks need legal help too, you know. If you're looking to get out of town, consider providing assistance to farmers, migrant workers, and American Indians on reservations, as one ABA presentation suggests. Sometimes, rural pro bono opportunities come preplanned and can be as simple as a day trip, which California's Justice Bus project provides.

Pro bono work is a great way to fulfill that pledge you made when you started law school to "help people" with your education. And as you can see, there are a whole host of ways to do it, even if you don't work in BigLaw.

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