Pro Bono: What’s Your Excuse?

You have every excuse in the book.  You may feel constrained by a lack of time, training, or an absence of malpractice insurance.  But, we’re here to tell you that you can do pro bono.  All you need is an open mind and some creative thinking.

“I can’t do pro bono because I don’t have the time.”

We know that you’re busy, but doing pro bono doesn’t have to mean signing up to litigate the interminable case from hell.  In fact, you don’t ever have to step foot in a courtroom.  There are weekend clinics, for example, in which you can provide legal advice for a few hours –for example, this clinic in D.C.  You can teach the law to young people or use your legal skills to help nonprofits or micro-entrepreneurs.  And, should you choose to do litigation, you can just do limited scope representation a.k.a. “unbundling” which allows for assisting litigants on time-limited, distinct tasks.  So, doing pro bono doesn’t mean that you are signing up to be overwhelmed.  In fact, in a national study that we conducted in 2008, 82% of the attorneys surveyed indicated that the number of hours of pro bono they provided and 94% indicated that the tasks that they performed were consistent with their expectations. .

“But I’m not trained to do pro bono in this area and that terrifies me”

In our national study, a majority of the attorneys who stated that their pro bono matter was outside their practice scope or area of expertise did not find this to be of concern.  But, if you feel overwhelmed by this prospect, many bar associations and/or pro bono programs provide free CLE training in exchange for taking a pro bono case (e.g. this program in Maryland).  In addition, many programs offer mentoring to attorneys who take a pro bono case in an unfamiliar practice area.  Also, some states provide for attorneys to receive CLE credit for their pro bono work.

“I can’t do pro bono because I don’t have malpractice insurance”

Government and corporate lawyers may be hesitant to take pro bono cases because they lack malpractice insurance.  In fact, our study showed that the provision of free malpractice insurance would be one of the highest motivators for non-providers of pro bono to take on pro bono work.  What many lawyers do not realize is that as long as they take a pro bono case through an organized pro bono program, they will be covered by the program’s malpractice insurance (see, for example, here) .  So, the fear of being exposed to liability is unwarranted.

So, stop making excuses and get busy!  There are more clients in need of your services than you can possibly imagine.

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5 Responses to Pro Bono: What’s Your Excuse?

  1. Robin Jacobs says:

    Does anyone know of a national list of transactional opportunities maintained by the ABA? The link in this article ( is broken.

  2. Peter says:

    Lawyers can also get scholarships from PLI to receive CLE training in an area of law they think they might be interested in, without a commitment to do pro bono work in that area.

  3. Erin says:

    Does anyone know of a way to get free malpractice coverage without getting referrals from a program? Due to the nature of my job (government) I run into a lot a people that need help with small legal issues but haven’t gone to a legal aid program.

    • Great question and kudos on your dedication to providing pro bono legal services.

      A good way to get free malpractice insurance for pro bono work is to volunteer through an established pro bono provider. We suggest working with an established provider for several reasons: established providers are able to screen clients to ensure that they are low-income and cannot afford an attorney, provide free malpractice insurance for attorneys who volunteer through their program and provide support through training, forms and other knowledge about the area in which you may be providing pro bono advice or representation.

      There are hundreds of established pro bono programs throughout the country that welcome government attorneys like yourself as pro bono volunteers. By connecting with one you may be able to refer people you meet to these programs for intake before you provide legal assistance. This will allow the program an opportunity to screen clients and then refer them back to you. Check out the National Directory of Pro Bono Programs ( to find a provider near you.

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