Pro bono publico (often shortened to pro bono) is a Latin phrase meaning “for the good of the people.”
In the legal profession, the term “pro bono” refers to legal services performed free of charge for the public good. Unlike traditional volunteerism, pro bono services leverage the skills of legal professionals to help those who are unable to afford a lawyer.
Pro bono services help marginalized communities and underserved populations – such as children and the elderly - that are often denied access to justice. A lawyer may also accept a case “pro bono,” meaning that he will not charge a fee for his services.
Pro Bono Requirements for Lawyers
The need for legal services among the poor is overwhelming. According to an American Bar Association study, at least 40% of low and moderate-income households experience a legal problem each year. Yet studies show that the collective civil legal aid effort is meeting only about 20% of the legal needs of low-income people.
Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. Under ABA Model Rule 6.1, a lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services per year. Some law firms and local bar associations may recommend fewer or more hours of pro bono service.
Many law firms and paralegal associations also recommend that paralegals perform a certain number of pro bono hours per year.