Lawyers are expensive, and some people cannot afford legal counsel in a divorce. Sometimes the court requires a high-earning spouse to pay the legal fees and expenses of the lower-income partner; however, if this is not the case, the impoverished spouse may want to consider a pro bono divorce lawyer. Divorce is a civil legal action, so unlike a criminal action, the court does appoint a lawyer to represent parties who do not have one.
Pro bono divorce lawyers are, in essence, free divorce lawyers. They are attorneys who voluntary take a case at no charge.
The term pro bono comes from the Latin pro bono publico, which means “for the public good.” The ABA describes the pro bono parameters for practicing lawyers in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Model Rule 6.1 states that lawyers should render – without fee – at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year, and these services should go to people of limited means or nonprofit organizations serving the poor.
In the law school setting, pro bono generally refers to the student provision of voluntary, law-related services to people of limited means or to community-based nonprofit organizations, for which the student does not receive academic credit or pay. Students learn through pro bono work that for the economically disadvantaged, poverty can have dire consequences. For many people, pro bono legal assistance is vital to maintaining minimum levels of basic needs such as government benefits, income, shelter, utilities, child support and physical protection. The special skills students develop during law school can significantly benefit the underprivileged. Only lawyers have the special skills and knowledge needed to secure access to the courts – and justice – for low-income people.
Finding a pro bono attorney is not easy, however. The local and state bar associations can also sometimes identify pro bono divorce lawyers. Such services are typically granted to those on a need-base only. 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.
Pro bono work is not always advertised. Lawyers are more likely to advertise their paid work (medical lawsuits and corporate cases) than their pro bono work.
One of the quickest ways to find out if an attorney does pro bono work is to call him or her directly and ask. This is not always ideal, but it can be the only way. Calling a high-power law firm simply because it seems it would do the best job may not work because there are other people clamoring for their pro bono services.
Recent law school graduates are a good choice. Lawyers just out of school who have passed the bar, are licensed to practice, and are on the lookout for new clients and experience may be valuable because having a client at all – even a pro bono client – is crucial because they need to get experience. They’re often far likelier to help than a high-power veteran who’s been around for thirty years. A young lawyer with fewer clients and fewer people asking for pro bono work can give the case more attention, and a young lawyer may have more enthusiasm.
A lawyer is more likely to agree to take a case pro bono when the client appears reasonable and is not going to be a major headache. A good client is courteous, polite, and open-minded. Lawyers, especially when they’re doing pro bono work, also benefit greatly when the client does some work – bringing them files they need, giving them information they ask for in a timely manner, “greasing the wheels,” so to speak, by making it as easy for the lawyer as possible. The client should expect to help the lawyer whenever possible and to be courteous and friendly so as to promote a solid relationship. Just because someone is willing to help does not mean that he or she should be expected to do all the work.
Lawyers can do a lot of good, save 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.