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What is Pro Bono?

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You’ve probably heard of lawyers working pro bono either on the television, in movies, or on the news. What this means is that the lawyer is taking on the case without charge, usually for a special scenario or for a client with a very low income. The lawyers are basically donating their expertise and time to a cause that they believe in or feel will bring them great recognition. What most people don’t know is that lawyers in the United States aim to give around 50 pro bono hours per year to clients who can’t afford their services.

Pro bono cases usually don’t receive a ton of attention unless the case is trending at the time. The cases are supposed to be taken on by lawyers that believe their expertise can provide a greater good to the community. Surprisingly, most pro bono cases are taken on by criminal defense attorneys; meaning these lawyers are helping people who have been accused and charged with a crime.

One of the most controversial cases that was partially pro bono was the case of Casey Anthony vs. the State of Florida. Casey Anthony was charged with the murder of her daughter when a group of lawyers took on her case for little pay. She was eventually found not guilty of murder and set free. While there was damning evidence against Anthony, her lawyers worked diligently on her defense. In this case, it doesn’t seem like the lawyers took on the true meaning behind pro bono, which is supposed to be helpful to society, but rather they took the case as a publicity stunt for their firm.

This isn’t always the case. Many lawyers take on civil rights cases that are aiming to expand human rights and defend social justice. However, many people who find themselves victims in these types of cases don’t have the means to hire a legal team. This is where lawyers who step in and take on a case pro bono are doing it for all the right reasons.

A lawyer by the name of Jose Pertierra works diligently with people who need help with the United State’s immigration law. Once a week he donates his time to talking on a Spanish language television show in Washington DC to answer the questions of immigrants who need help filing paper work and becoming citizens. He talks about how there are not many people that are on their side and he feels that they need someone to advocate for them. He’s won some pretty high profile cases, but also likes to help the poor as best as he can.

Another lawyer, named Ralph S. Abascal, died in 1997 but left behind a legacy of pro bono work. He took on over 200 cases that he was never paid for, all having to do with the disabled, elderly, farmers, and welfare recipients. His work ultimately led to the banning of DDT, a dangerous pesticide used in the 70’s. According to Online Paralegal Programs, Abascal “fought against Reagan’s failed effort to cut federal funding from welfare, won a notion to disallow illegal immigrant from being banned from public colleges, helped draft the 1986 federal immigration reform law, worked hard to advocate women’s right to choose and helped change the way states are required to discard their toxic chemicals.” Doing a ton for the people in the world back then and continuously now, Abascal will never be forgotten in the field.

Pro bono lawyers aren’t exactly easy to find, but if you contact a local lawyer and explain your situation, they may just be willing to help you. You can search for lawyers by their name or their specialty and location through databases like Lawyers of Distinction.

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