Quality legal services can be costly. In order to ensure access to the legal system for all, including those who are unable to afford their own counsel, attorneys are encouraged to offer pro bono (free of charge) legal services. Further, the funding for the free legal clinics should be increased.
Nevada Rules of Professional Conduct state that every attorney has a professional responsibility to provide at least 20 hours of various pro bono legal services a year to those unable to pay. However, it is important to encourage attorneys to provide pro bono legal services of their own volition rather than as a requirement.
As someone very involved in pro bono work, I choose to believe that most attorneys have a desire to volunteer to help those in need. Beyond the satisfaction of giving back, pro bono work often allows the attorneys to further the causes important to them. For that reason, offering programs that allow attorneys to volunteer in the areas of personal interest would likely increase attorneys’ engagement in pro bono work.
However, due to long work hours, heavy workloads, and billable hour expectations, a large number of attorneys are restricted by work-related factors beyond their control. Changing the corporate culture by implementing policies that would allow attorneys to balance billable and pro bono work, as well as providing training and creating opportunities for pro bono work, would make it easier for attorneys to volunteer their legal services.
State Bar Associations, state courts, and state judges play important roles in encouraging pro bono work among attorneys. Creating opportunities to provide legal services related to the causes important to the attorneys, organizing trainings, and offering mentoring produces an environment conducive to pro bono work. Moreover, creating opportunities to further develop legal skills by guaranteeing oral arguments at the appeals court or even supreme court level, motivates many attorneys to offer pro bono services. Additionally, some pro bono work may count toward the continuing legal education credit requirements, thus freeing some time for attorneys to satisfy annual educational requirements by offering pro bono legal services instead.
It is important to remember that pro bono services are intended for those in need. Pro bono publico is a Latin phrase meaning “for the public good” and denotes professional services rendered voluntarily and without compensation to people that are in need of such services but do not have the financial resources to afford them. It can be discouraging to an attorney when a client solicits pro bono work on false pretenses, which sometimes happens. For that reason, many attorneys are hesitant to accept pro bono cases directly when approached by a potential client, and prefer to accept pro bono cases when referred by legal aid organizations.
Clients can also seek free legal help directly through legal aid organizations and free clinics. In Nevada, VARN (Volunteer Attorneys for Rural Nevadans) and NLS (Nevada Legal Services) organize legal professionals to help qualified Nevadans get the legal advice and assistance needed that they otherwise would not be able to afford.
To learn more about the services offered, visit VARN online at varn.org or call 775-883-8278; for NLS, visit NLS online at nlslaw.net or call 775-883-0404.
Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney