When you read or hear news about pro bono legal work being done, the odds are pretty good that it’s coming from a law firm, often one with hundreds (if not thousands) of lawyers. Good deeds make for good press. No doubt about that.
But let’s keep in mind that while law firms like to take credit for pro bono, the work itself is still done by individual lawyers. Yup. People like you and me. American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 encourages each of us—lawyers, not law firms—to voluntarily provide some services on a pro bono basis. How much we provide is less important than the fact that we do provide. In the words of the ABA Model Rules’ Preamble and Scope, when we joined the legal profession, we each became a “public citizen” with a “special responsibility” for ensuring the “quality of justice” for everyone, rich and poor alike.
Model Rule 6.1 doesn’t dictate how we’re expected to carry out this special responsibility. Rather, it’s up to each of us to figure out how we can best do pro bono work as part of our law practice. Most of us went to law school because we wanted to help people. And yet, we sometimes end up literally or figuratively locking our doors to those who can’t pay much or at all. If we do that, then we’re missing out on the unbridled joy of helping others, which is the very best part of practicing law.
What law firms—especially the big ones—can do is help their lawyers find ways to do pro bono work. They can hire people who are assigned to create written pro bono plans and run pro bono programs. But there are other sources of help for those of us who don’t practice in large firms. For example, call or email your state or local bar association and tell them you want to do pro bono. Your bar would love to sign you up for a program it’s running and give you any training you need. Or pay a visit to your neighborhood legal services office. They’re usually looking for volunteers and can help you find a role that fits your practice and schedule.
And then there’s the ABA, which has a highly successful platform for making pro bono work easier and more convenient than ever before. Called ABA Free Legal Answers, the platform operates as an online legal advice clinic where people who need pro bono help post their legal questions, and lawyers who’ve signed up as volunteers choose questions they want to respond to and post their answers. It’s that simple. Since ABA Free Legal Answers’ debut in Tennessee and Indiana in 2016, pro bono clients have posted close to 300,000 legal questions, and more than 12,000 lawyers have registered as volunteers.
ABA Free Legal Answers works. It’s convenient for both pro bono clients and volunteer lawyers alike. Often it can provide legal help more quickly than a legal services office can. Give it a try if it’s available in your state. In addition to doing your part to ensure the quality of justice, you may discover that ABA Free Legal Answers is fun and a welcome break in your workday.