You’re looking for a pro bono lawyer to handle your case, and you’re running into trouble. You’re getting a lot of “no.” Why is that?
Pro bono is a term that means “for the public good.” In other words, a pro bono lawyer is providing their services for free. In the legal profession, there has historically been encouragement for lawyers to donate their time to cases or causes for the purpose of promoting the public good. In fact, the American Bar Association encourages lawyers to donate 50 hours of their time per year to pro bono cases. Many state bar associations also encourage their members to dedicate some time to pro bono cases every year.
Because so many associations encourage this practice, the public often believes that providing services on a pro bono basis is common amongst lawyers and law firms. However, it’s not the reality. The cost of law school tuition commonly puts lawyers into hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt before they begin the practice of law. Then, in practice, law firms run like every other business. They have to pay for rent, marketing expenses, employee wages, equipment, supplies, technology, research tools, and the list goes on. Lawyers need to be paid fees on the cases that they take so that they can continue to pay their own bills.
Unfortunately, finding a lawyer to handle your case for free is like finding a unicorn. While some lawyers do follow the recommendation by the American Bar Association or their state bar association, and donate some of their time to pro bono matters, they are few and far between. Even lawyers who take on pro bono cases are severely limited in the number of cases that they can take. It’s not unusual for a litigation matter to take more than 50 hours to resolve.
Further, there are often alternatives to a pro bono lawyer. For example, many lawyers don’t take on criminal cases on a pro bono basis because the courts provide indigent criminal defendants with court-appointed attorneys to represent them. While many defendants don’t like the idea of being represented by a public defender, it’s difficult to talk another lawyer into doing the case for free when the court is willing to pay a public defender to represent you.
Further, there are also legal aid services available for many people who are involved in things like divorce and custody disputes, evictions, and other domestic relations matters.
Additionally, in personal injury cases, many lawyers take cases on a contingency basis. This means that you only pay the lawyer a fee if you recover some money, and then you only pay a percentage of what you recover. Pro bono attorneys aren’t required in matters where you may recover money.
Many lawyers view pro bono cases as thankless, as it is rare that their donated time is appreciated by the client who they are serving.
Most cases that lawyers handle pro bono are actually cases that the criminal lawyer has sought out the client and offered their services. It is a rare exception that a client actually approaches a lawyer and obtains free services. It’s not unlike any other business. When a new client comes in asking for a service, lawyers expect to be compensated.