How Law Firms Can Do Good While Doing Well (and the Answer is Not Pro Bono)

7 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2006 Last revised: 12 May 2010

Date Written: May 11, 2010


This essay offers a proposal for law firms to do good while doing well and critiques the effort to revitalize professionalism by promoting pro bono. While conceding that pro bono may serve as a valuable vehicle for service, the essay criticizes it as a measure of lawyers' commitment to the public good. The essay cautions that an emphasis on pro bono runs the risk of pushing concern for the public good to the margins of practice. It also exacerbates the tendency to promote a largely discredited claim that a dichotomy exists between self-interested business people and altruistic lawyers. This claim, in turn, engenders feelings of dissatisfaction and inadequacy among lawyers who are caught between their aspiration to pure altruism and their reality of trying to make money.

The essay instead proposes a two part solution. Rather than limit commitment to the public good to a few hours of pro bono practice, law firms should: 1) embrace a more realistic conception of the public good that recognizes that lawyers, like most other people, are seeking both to make money and to do good; and 2) encourage lawyers to accept moral responsibility for their conduct, including an obligation to provide moral counseling to their clients and a revision in the Model Rules to promote this obligation.

Keywords: legal ethics, professionalism, pro bono, public interest law, public good, moral counseling, business-profession dichotomy, moral responsibility, legal profession, lawyers

Suggested Citation

Pearce, Russell G., How Law Firms Can Do Good While Doing Well (and the Answer is Not Pro Bono) (May 11, 2010). Fordham Urban Law Journal, Symposium on Professional Challenges in Large-Firm Practice, Vol. 33, p. 211, 2005, Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 908276, Available at SSRN:

Russell G. Pearce (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6834 (Phone)
212-636-6899 (Fax)

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