Do Attorneys Ever Work for Free?

The answer is "yes," thousands of attorneys do free legal work for a variety of clients in many circumstances. This is known as "pro bono" work and the American Bar Association urges all attorneys to give at least 50 hours of pro bono time per year; many lawyers give much more. This kind of free work for those who cannot afford to pay typical legal fees may be done through legal aid societies, law school clinics, bar association organizations, and other non-profits. Such organizations may focus on a particular type of Pro Bono Case such as aiding battered women, immigration matters, landlord-tenant disputes and similar causes. Often, law firms also sponsor their own pro bono programs to enable their attorneys easily to give back to their communities.

Why do lawyers do this work? Most professions do not have a requirement or a goal to give away professional services for free. Our system of justice, however, is heavily based on establishing equal footing under the law, whether someone can afford to pay a lawyer or not. Clients obviously benefit by having representation, especially in situations where the other side may have vast resources and the benefit of heavy-hitting sophisticated lawyers. The system as a whole and society at large are better and fairer when lawyers are matched on both sides.

For the lawyers, Pro Bono Cases are their own reward - the satisfaction of helping someone who cannot afford legal fees to obtain justice and their day in court is fulfilling in and of itself. This type of representation has other benefits as well. Younger and newer lawyers can gain rapid and valuable hands-on experience. Some pro bono cases may enhance a lawyer's reputation and stature in the field and among colleagues and judges. Retirees can keep their skills honed and enjoy a lighter but fulfilling schedule. Above all, keeping the justice system even-handed and functioning well is important to every citizen.