There is no universally accepted definition of pro bono work in the legal community. Pro bono work is generally accepted to mean work that is done without compensation.
ABA Model Rule 6.1 urges all lawyers to devote at least 50 hours per year to providing legal services to those unable to pay. While the California Bar Association also urges attorneys to engage in regular pro bono work, it has not adopted a similar rule of professional conduct. In 2015, a Task Force for Civil Justice Strategies issued a Report and Recommendation on how to address the extreme justice gap in California. While a rule on professional conduct formally encouraging and defining pro bono work has been proposed (Proposed Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1) it has not been adopted.
In defining what would qualify as pro bono for the purposes of UC Hastings, the school created an advisory committee of faculty, staff, and students. The following restrictions were based on the recommendation of that committee.
Pro bono work is: volunteer, law-related services provided directly to or on behalf of under-represented individuals.
Some questions to help answer whether the work you are doing meets this definition of Pro Bono:
1) Am I a volunteer? If you are receiving compensation of any sort (pay, stipend, academic credit, etc.) you are not a volunteer.
2) Is the work law-related? If you are making use of your specialized knowledge and skills acquired as a law student, the work is law-related. Law-related activities and skills include: intake, interviewing, form completion, education about legal process or rights, legal research and drafting, providing interpretation or translation services to assist in seeking legal aid, negotiating, problem-solving, working to increase diversity in the legal profession, etc.
3) Are my efforts and energies provided to or on behalf of under-represented individuals or communities? The unmet civil legal needs in California are overwhelming. Work which benefits individuals or groups who would not otherwise have access to representation based on their ability to pay or because they have traditionally been disenfranchised from the legal process will count.
Examples of Pro Bono and Exceptions
Please contact Professor Brittany Glidden at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions regarding what counts as pro bono work.