Frequently Asked Questions About Pro Bono
- Are Florida attorneys required to provide pro bono service? Florida Bar Rule 4-6 encourages members to provide pro bono legal services to the poor. The professional responsibility to provide pro bono assistance is aspirational, not mandatory. The Rule suggests that attorneys satisfy the responsibility by donating 20 hours or more annually or by donating $350 or more to a legal aid organization. Although there is no statewide requirement that attorneys do pro bono, all Bar members are asked to report whether they have done any pro bono on the annual Bar dues statement.
- If I help someone for free, isn’t that pro bono? Pro bono service is legal assistance provided without charge or expectation of fees at the time the service commences. Legal services written off as a bad debt or a case in which an attorney cannot collect a fee do not qualify as pro bono.
- What is the difference between community service and pro bono service? Pro bono service involves the provision of free legal services. Attorneys that participate in bar association activities, volunteer to serve on the board of a nonprofit, or serve on a professional association’s board or committee are providing community or public service, unless they provide free legal assistance as part of their activities.
- If I provide legal help to a nonprofit organization or community group, does it count as pro bono service? Pro bono legal services to the poor are not limited to individuals. Providing free legal assistance to a charitable, religious, or educational organization, whose overall mission and activities are designed primarily to address the needs of the poor, counts as pro bono. You can volunteer to help local nonprofits and community groups through the Community Counsel Program (CCP).
- Why should I participate in an organized pro bono program when I can do it on my own? Legal aid providers and pro bono programs have developed pro bono projects to address the legal needs of the community. Clients are screened to ensure that they qualify for pro bono assistance and cases are assessed to confirm that they have merit. Many pro bono programs offer benefits to volunteer attorneys, including training, CLE credit, mentoring, and liability coverage. Programs collect and record the hours donated by volunteers and can provide this information to attorneys for reporting to the Bar.
- What pro bono opportunities are available for transactional attorneys, corporate counsel, or government attorneys? BAVLP has a number of pro bono projects for attorneys who don’t do litigation, don’t want to handle a case, or may have a conflict with handling a litigation matter, including Client Intake, CCP, Domestic Violence Assistance Project (DVAP), Family Forms Clinic (FFC), and Mentor Panel. Transactional attorneys can participate in the Case Referral Panel and receive referrals of real property, wills, trusts, guardianship, zoning, and other non-litigation matters.
- What if I don’t have the time to provide pro bono assistance? BAVLP provides a variety of pro bono opportunities for attorneys who have limited time. If you have only an hour or two to spare each month, you can interview a legal aid applicant at Client Intake, help a pro se litigant with forms at the DVAP or FFC, or mentor a volunteer attorney or legal aid staff by telephone. Volunteers can participate in some pro bono projects during lunch time, after work, or on weekends.
- What if I don’t have the expertise to help indigent clients? Many pro bono projects require little specialized expertise. Training is offered for some pro bono projects, including Client Intake, DVAP, and FFC, and projects are supervised by experienced legal aid staff attorneys. Less experienced attorneys who want to handle a case can be matched with a volunteer mentor. Volunteering as a guardian ad litem counts as pro bono and requires no legal expertise.