What Happens When a Pro Bono Attorney and Client Have Problems?

Yesterday’s question on Solo Practice University is from a solo practitioner representing a pro bono client. The client has become increasingly problematic and the attorney wonders, I Want to Fire a Pro Bono Client. What Say You?

Pro bono programs and staff make every effort to screen cases and clients to ensure a good match between volunteer and client. Despite those best efforts, though, occasionally a client or a case will become difficult in unexpected ways. It is important that programs have in place a policy for volunteers to follow when that happens, and to ensure all volunteers know about the policy.

How do pro bono programs generally handle these situations? Here are a couple of responses from pro bono managers:

  • “Generally when this happens I will take the burden off the attorney and speak with the client and find out why there is a problem.  We always tell attorneys that they may send a case back to us if it is a problem, and then we can close it.  We always let clients know that they have certain responsibilities, many of them addressed directly in our Retainer Agreement, such as keeping appointments timely, rescheduling if necessary, showing up at court…  We would never expect a pro bono attorney to work with a disrespectful client.  Thankfully it doesn’t happen often.”
  • “Our volunteer attorneys are the heart of our program and I feel that is my responsibility to intercede when problems develop between the client and attorney.  Sometimes the issue is a personality conflict, in which case I will try to place the client with another attorney.  When the problem is the client then I will remove the case from placement and inform the client that we are unable to continue our assistance.”

What does your program do in similar circumstances? Share your thoughts with us in the Comments below.

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One Response to What Happens When a Pro Bono Attorney and Client Have Problems?

  1. We do the same as the comments on the post. First, I’ll contact the client and try to figure out what has caused the problem and try to mediate. If that doesn’t solve the problem, we relieve the pro bono volunteer from the case and end the assistance (if all possible). There are some challenges if the attorney is representing the pro bono client in court.

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