Most people are familiar with the term “pro bono.” It means “for good” in Latin. When attorneys do pro bono work, they don’t charge their clients for their services. A client may have to pay other fees associated with whatever kind of legal matter they’re dealing with, but they don’t pay their attorney a fee for their services or advice.
Oftentimes, a law firm will devote its pro bono services to one particular type of law – like immigration, helping small business start-ups, disability rights work, assisting victims of domestic violence or helping people who can’t afford to hire criminal defense attorneys. Sometimes, attorneys choose their own pro bono clients.
Some amount of pro bono work is expected (although not strictly required) for all members of the bar. It’s a way to give back to the community. It can also give attorneys a chance to practice trial law occasionally if their primary work mostly involves reviewing documents or other elements of the law. There are also legal aid societies and other pro bono organizations that rely on attorneys who volunteer their time and experience to helping clients at no charge. The Innocence Project is probably one of the best known.
What do you have a right to expect?
What’s crucial to know is that if an attorney has taken your case pro bono, they have the same duty to represent you effectively and abide by the ethical standards of their profession and the state bar as if you were paying them. The retainer agreement you both sign when you agree to let them represent you should spell out the scope of their representation and other details, so it’s crucial to read and understand it.
If their actions, negligence, errors or ethical lapses have harmed your case, you potentially have the right to hold them liable for legal malpractice. Don’t let anyone tell you that “you get what you pay for.” That’s not the point or the spirit of pro bono work. If you believe that an attorney who represented you pro bono is guilty of malpractice, it’s wise to get an informed opinion and help in determining what options you have available to you under the law.