Attorneys increasingly accept the notion that all lawyers should do pro bono. Despite their best intentions, however, many find that trepidation about venturing into an unfamiliar subject area keeps them from entering the pro bono arena. When one thinks of pro bono, most commonly images of litigating family or landlord tenant cases come to mind. And while many attorneys partner with legal service organizations to receive training and provide free legal services, some volunteers still find that a subject area outside of their daily practice is beyond their comfort zone.
By finding pro bono opportunities where the service provided is within a lawyer’s daily practice, many attorneys will discover that the transition to pro bono is less daunting and likely to lead to additional pro bono representation in the future. Below is a list of pro bono opportunities outside of what many would consider when thinking about pro bono. The following suggestions are more in line with the typical attorney’s practice area and, therefore, are likely to be more appealing:
- Work with veteran organizations representing veterans in administrative hearings. See the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law Project Salute.
- Also look into your local bar association for opportunities such as those highlighted by the State Bar of Texas Administrative and Public Law Section.
- Provide CLE training to legal services and pro bono attorneys on appellate practice and procedure to better prepare them for appellate cases they may encounter in their legal services work.
- Partner with a legal services organization that has an appellate advocacy program. See Programs at Legal Aid DC, Office of Appellate Defender Program (NY), and the Indiana Appellate Pro Bono Project. See also the handout from the Equal Justice Conference Program “Partnerships for State Appellate Pro Bono Programs” as well as this outline and handouts 1 & 2.
- Visit the ABA Business Law Section Pro Bono Project.
- Work with a legal services organization on community economic development issues, zoning issues, contract issues, or other transactional issues.
- Assist organizations to seek or establish non-profit status.
- Provide legal services, such as contract drafting and review, zoning assistance or other construction law related matters, to a non-profit organization of your choice.
- Provide services to residential developers building low-income and mixed use housing or structures to be used for non-profits.
- Work with legal services or non-profit organization providing pro bono services on matters regarding choice of legal entity, intellectual property, commercial leases, zoning compliance, franchises, customer and supplier contracts, licenses and permits or tax labor and employment issues. See the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of Boston Bar project or visit CorporateProBono.org.
- Partner with legal services or law school clinics on innocence projects working toward the release of wrongfully convicted prisoners through DNA testing. Visit the Innocence Network website for more information about projects by state.
- Partner with legal service providers on reentry program. See the Bronx Defenders Reentry Project.
- Participate in the intake and development of mediation and restorative justice cases with a local dispute resolution center or organization.
- Participate in court conciliation programs.
- Provide assistance through foreclosure defense projects. Visit Chicago’s Cook County Foreclosure Mediation Program website (or obtain more info here) and the Philadelphia Court’s Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program website.
Entertainment and Sports/ Intellectual Property
- Provide services to artists through a program like the Volunteer Lawyers and Professionals for the Arts (Nashville), Lawyers for the Creative Arts (Chicago) or Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (New York). In limited circumstances, some of these organizations may help with services for artists outside of their city or state.
Environmental Law Practice
- Visit the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide website or the Environmental Defender Law Center’s Law Firm Pro Bono Program.
- Provide pro bono services to or through a local environmental non-profit. Many nonprofits need assistance with their daily programs or transactional assistance with nonprofit status or other organizational needs.
- Contact local environmental legal services programs like the Southern Environmental Law Center, with offices in six southern states, to determine if any pro bono opportunities are available.
- Prepare taxes for low-income or disadvantaged communities, work on wage claim cases, participate in clinical programs or staff legal advice hotlines.
- See the ABA Center for Pro Bono’s Government Attorneys page for more information and ideas. Take care that pro bono services do not conflict with official duties: view frequently asked questions for government attorneys interested in pro bono.
Health Care Practice
- Work on a medical-legal partnership through a local organization. Visit the National Center for Medical Legal Partnership website. Also check out the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service’s Medical-Legal Partnership Pro Bono Project website.
- Work with a legal service organization on Fair Housing cases challenging barriers against people with criminal records.
- Assist non-profits with zoning issues related to new facilities or restrictions on housing their client base (hurdles to homeless shelters and drug and alcohol treatment facilities).
- Participate in a local foreclosure mediation or litigation program (see links under “Dispute Resolution Practice” above).
Tax Law Practice
- Assist with preparing tax returns for low-income, disabled or disadvantaged communities. See The Community Tax Law Project (VA). Also visit the ABA Section of Taxation Pro Bono Website.
What interesting pro bono project do you participate in or manage? If you do something you feel could have been listed above, please leave a comment telling us about it.
~ Adrienne Packard