“Pro bono publico,” commonly known as merely “pro bono,” is the rendering of free or discounted professional services for the indigent (Merriam-Webster. com, n. d. ). Derived from its Latin origin, the phrase is directly translated as “for the public good. ” While there are variations of pro bono services such as in architecture, business consultations, and entrepreneurship, it is particularly notable in the legal field, where lawyers and firms offer their services to those who require it but lack the resources to obtain it.
Providing legal counsel to those who cannot afford it began in the early fifteenth century, where appointment of an attorney for court proceedings was made by jurists who deemed it necessary. Its beginnings stemmed from the need to provide equal access to legal services, as well as the obligation of lawyers to ascertain that those services are made available (Rhode, 1999). Before that reform, injustice was prevalent due to the lack of professional representation for defendants who do not have the means to retain an attorney.
Even when the movement to provide legal counsel to the indigent had already begun, many defendants still remained unrepresented in court; the problem was only addressed during the mid-twentieth century, when the right for a defendant to have an attorney regardless of any financial situation was established (Coir, 2011). That established right eventually became the springboard that led to what is now commonly known as pro bono work. In 1998, the American Bar Association (ABA) released its Model Rules of Conduct to the public, in which Rule 6. 1 states that: A lawyer should aspire to render at least fifty hours of pro bono publico legal services per year, primarily to persons of limited means, or to organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of such persons. ”
Because of the ABA’s recommendation, as well as the benefits that pro bono provides to both the beneficiary and the benefactor, attorneys were more inclined to take on such services, which resulted to the establishment of pro bono services as part of the culture and ethical responsibilities of attorneys (The American Bar Association, 2009).
Lawyers are highly encouraged to do pro bono work despite the lack of any monetary gain because of the various benefits it provides to both the public and the attorneys providing the service. Because having quality representation would mostly be equated to having the same high amount of payment, the less fortunate would be unable to retain professional attorneys if the concept of doing pro bono work did not exist.
In the part of the benefactors – especially law firms – pro bono work is an inexpensive and efficient alternative to training programs, where young lawyers and associates are placed in situations that would help them improve their skills and capabilities. An attorney or a law firm that healthily dabbles in pro bono work also enhances their reputation in both the legal field and the community, thus allowing them to garner a sizable amount of clients for future work (Lapp & Shabecoff, n. d. ).
Despite the benefits that pro bono work offers, the presence of certain obstacles prevent it from being practiced frequently. A survey conducted by the American Bar Association (2009) revealed that one of the major obstacles is the discouragement of employers in law firms. Since the profits that associates in firms earn from offering legal services to clients is the support that enables firms to continue operating, pro bono work, which does not delivery any monetary gain to firms, may be considered as a waste of limited resources such as time and manpower.
Associates have no control over their firm’s policies, and therefore cannot oppose its discouragement of pro bono. The survey also reported that the lack of clients approaching lawyers for pro bono work is also one of the causes that result to the lack of pro bono activity in the legal field. Pro bono work is not the primary priority of lawyers; when pro bono clients do not approach lawyers to avail of their services, lawyers tend to forget about the pro bono practice that could benefit them more than monetary gain.
The benefits and obstacles that pro bono work presents, as well as the manner in which it is conducted or defined, vary in different countries. In the United States of America, pro bono work is defined as services rendered for free or without the expectation of a fee to those with limited means. Because pro bono also mostly began in the legal system of the United States, there is both a great demand and supply of pro bono services in the country.
There are some countries, such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), wherein pro bono work is a difficult feat. Most legal cases in PRC are handled and supervised by the government; all attorneys in the country are required to participate in legal services that the state has established, which leaves little room for small firms and organizations to provide pro bono services. In the case of the Philippines, pro bono work is not entirely popular, even if there are great opportunities for it.
One of the biggest obstacles of pro bono work in the country is that the indigent are not informed of the program; they do not know of it, and therefore do not seek it (Latham & Watkins, 2012). There are different opportunities, definitions, and benefits for pro bono work in varying countries, and throughout the course of history, pro bono services and its role in societal improvement have been continuously improving; where it once did not exist and the impoverished had no access to justice, it now stands to give the indigent an opportunity to avail of services that they have an equal right to.
If lawyers around the globe would adhere to the ABA’s 6. 1 Rule of Conduct, then they may find that reaping the benefits that pro bono work provides will not only improve their abilities, but fulfill their moral obligations as well. As the ABA states in their Model Rules of Personal Conduct, “Every lawyer… has a responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay and personal involvement in the problems of the disadvantaged can be one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer. “