How To Find a Pro Bono Attorney

By | July 20, 2011

There’s so much legal advice on the Internet that it’s easy to forget how many people struggle to be able to afford it. And when people below the poverty line face genuine, difficult legal problems by themselves, fighting for their rights can feel like an uphill battle.

Luckily, this is not the end of the story. Pro bono work, (shortened from the Latin “pro bono public,” or for the public good) is work that lawyers offer voluntarily. While not quite the same as charity work, many lawyers are able to exercise their compassion and need to help others by using their skills in a way that benefits the less fortunate.

If you’re among those least fortunate, this article is for you. We’re going to dissect exactly how you can find a pro bono attorney to help you with your legal problems. While it might seem impossible – after all, how many people offer their services for free — you might be really surprised at how many lawyers are willing to help. And you certainly won’t be able to find them without a little effort on your part. So let’s get started.

Remember that Pro Bono Work is Not Always Advertised: Methods for Discovering Hidden Gems

Lawyers have to pay the bills too, so remember that they’re more likely to advertise their paid work (medical lawsuits, corporate cases, and so on) than their pro bono work. This is part of the reason it can feel like there are so few lawyers offering free work – in reality, there are plenty more than initially meets the eye.

The question, of course, is how to find these attorneys when they don’t advertise their services. One of the quickest ways you can find out from an attorney whether or not they do pro bono work is to call them up directly and ask – a form of “cold calling,” if you will. This is not always ideal, but when you have no other options, it can be the only way to get in touch with someone that will really help you.

It’s important to target your calls correctly. If you call up the fanciest law firm in town simply because they look like they’ll do the best job, remember that there are probably plenty of other people clamoring for their pro bono services as well. Sure, it might be worth a shot, but your time is often better spent on people who are willing to help you now rather than later.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to target recent graduates – lawyers just out of the gate who have passed the bar, are licensed to practice, and are on the lookout for new clients and experience. Having a client at all – even a pro bono client – is crucial for them because they need to get some cases under their belt. They’re often far likelier to help you than someone who’s been around for thirty years and has built up a sterling reputation.

Does this mean that you’ll have to sacrifice quality? Of course not. Let’s look at some reasons to find a younger lawyer:

  • More personal attention. A lawyer with fewer clients and fewer people asking for pro bono work will be able to give your case more attention than the guy working in the office building downtown.
  • More enthusiasm. Granted, you won’t always find more enthusiasm from the younger lawyers, but if you find the right kind of go-getter, you may actually be working with a lawyer who will eventually climb his way to the top thanks to the enthusiasm they’ve had since the start.
  • You’re more likely to hear “yes.” Let’s face it: when you need pro bono work, things probably look pretty bleak. It’s good to hear someone say “yes” for a change, and the lawyers with less work are more likely to do so.

How to Get the Lawyer to Agree

Even when you approach a lawyer who’s more likely to take on pro bono work, you have to make sure that you look like a reasonable client and that you’re not going to be a major headache. Many lawyers are willing to take on a lot of work for good clients, and remember: they’re not getting any money out of their deal with you, so if you want to make them feel like this is an even trade, you’ll have to be a good client.

What does it take to be a good client? It takes some basic strategies for dealing with people: being courteous, polite, and open-minded. You’ll have to check your ego at the door and avoid telling them what to do; if you knew what to do, you wouldn’t need a lawyer in the first place.

Lawyers, especially when they’re doing pro bono work, also benefit greatly when you do work on your own. Bring them files they need, give them information they ask for in a timely manner – act like you’re a member of the lawyer’s team and you’re assisting them in your case. You won’t always be able to do their job for them, of course, but you can definitely grease the wheels by making it as easy on them as possible.

The old saying says that there’s no thing as a free lunch. Pro bono work is not a free lunch; you should expect to help your lawyer whenever possible and to be courteous and friendly so as to promote a solid relationship. Just because someone is willing to help you does not mean that they should be expected to do all the work. If you need a pro bono lawyer enough to read this article through to this point, then there’s a good chance you’re willing to go the extra mile for a lawyer who’s going the extra mile for you.

After all, chin up: pro bono work can be among the best charity you receive. Lawyers can do you a lot of good, save you a lot of money, and when they do the work voluntarily, it’s easy to see why not all lawyers deserve to be made into jokes.

And, if you can, maybe bake them some brownies in gratitude. Food sometimes goes further than money.