Pro Bono Publico in a Parallel Universe: The Meaning of Pro Bono in Solo and Small Law Firms
48 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2008
Date Written: November 15, 2008
This article looks at pro bono and "low bono" (reduced fee) work in the solo and small firm law firm context, compares it to the large firm experience, and considers the implications for access to justice in the U.S. It starts by describing the significant differences between pro bono as performed in large firms and in solo and small firms. It then describes the history and bar politics that led to ABA Model Rule 6.1, which reflects the elite (i.e., large law firm) views of pro bono, and seemingly devalues the pro bono work that solo and small firm lawyers often perform. It considers the data indicating that solo and small law firm practitioners perform more pro bono work than any other group of lawyers and explores the reasons why they do so. Solo and small firm lawyers typically represent ordinary individuals in their law practices and much of the pro bono and "low bono" they perform arises out of their every day work. These lawyers often find themselves performing pro bono work when their clients are - or become - unable to pay for legal services. The prevalence of this practice reflects the unacknowledged reality that it is not just the indigent who cannot afford legal services, but also the working poor and the lower middle class. The article suggests that in order to increase pro bono participation by solo and small firm lawyers, it is important to redefine "pro bono" in a way that recognizes the realities of practice in the solo and small firm context and gives the contributions of these lawyers a positive meaning. The article also provides other recommendations about how to encourage more pro bono and low bono activities by these lawyers in order to increase access to justice.
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