The last updated date refers to the last time this article was reviewed by FindLaw or one of our contributing authors. We make every effort to keep our articles updated. For information regarding a specific legal issue affecting you, please contact an attorney in your area.
Find answers to common questions about getting free legal representation.
What Is Pro Bono?
"Pro bono publico" is Latin and means "for the public good." Attorneys who volunteer to take on clients and legal issues without charging any legal fees are taking a case "pro bono." Typical pro bono clients include people with low income, people with a civil rights issue, or those who otherwise not have access to justice in our legal system.
Anyone can, in theory. Typically, however, legal aid organizations have eligibility requirements. These usually revolve around income and assets.
Yes. Pro bono attorneys do not charge their clients any legal fees. However, there may on occasion be some court costs or filing fees you have to help with if you don't qualify for a fee waiver from the court. This depends on the organization, the attorney you are working with, and the type of case you have. But you'd have to pay these costs even if you were representing yourself. The attorney does not get any of that money. Do Pro Bono Lawyers Get Paid if They Win?
No. When a lawyer takes a percentage of a client's award (as is typical in a car accident injury case) it is called a contingency fee arrangement. This is not pro bono work, it is just a different type of fee arrangement. For pro bono, a lawyer doesn't take a fee regardless of the outcome of the case.
Pro bono work rarely involves personal injury lawsuits, class actions, or other types of lawsuits seeking money. If you have a legitimate personal injury case, however, the good news is you can almost certainly find a lawyer who will represent you with no upfront costs.
Not usually. Legal aid and pro bono organizations receive funds and grants from state and federal governments, but they do not work directly for any government agency. Pro bono lawyers can, and regularly do, file civil lawsuits against government agencies. Public law schools also often have pro bono programs that are not affiliated with the government, even though they receive public funding. Law schools do this to help others, get mentoring for law students, and provide for experiential learning.
Pro bono work can be done by any lawyer. Legal Aid is an organization dedicated to helping impoverished people with certain legal issues, typically domestic violence, landlord/tenant disputes, tax controversies, and others. Other legal organizations may take different cases. For example, in many states there are pro bono organizations dedicated to immigration law.
If your income is too high to qualify for legal aid, there may be other options for you. You could try a free legal clinic, representing yourself and conducting your own research, or try to find a different organization/lawyer who could help. You may even see if you can pay an attorney for only certain, specific tasks at a lower cost than a full representation agreement.
As a vital part of a healthy society, lawyers are widely expected to help their communities and indigent individuals. The American Bar Association has created model rules for attorney professionalism and ethics. These include pro bono requirements. ABA Model Rule 6.1 encourages every lawyer to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services per year. Most attorneys have done pro bono work at some point in their career, and many make it a priority to help less fortunate individuals.
There are benefits for the attorneys and law firms involved in pro bono opportunities, however. These include generating goodwill, refining their skills, and the emotional and psychological benefits you get from community service.