Do Lawyers Have to Take Pro-Bono Cases?
CALIFORNIA LAWYERS HAVE NO LEGAL OBLIGATION TO REPRESENT PRO-BONO CLIENTS
Both the American Bar Association and the California Bar Association strongly encourage lawyers to take on pro-bono cases. However, California lawyers are not required to perform any pro-bono legal work as part of standard licensing requirements.
(“Pro Bono” means “for the good” and usually refers to representing clients without charging any legal fees, or in some cases at dramatically reduced fees.)
Although there have been discussions about requiring lawyers to perform pro bono work, it is not required. Therefore, it is not malpractice for a lawyer to refuse to accept clients who cannot pay the lawyer’s fees. The law is a profession, and lawyers are permitted to charge (and to decide how much to charge) for their services.
SOME LAWYERS MAY HAVE A CONTRACTUAL DUTY TO HANDLE PRO BONO CASES
California law firms that have legal services contracts with the State of California often do have pro bono obligations. However, in most cases, this is only a duty to make a reasonable good faith effort to handle pro bono matters, and is not a strict duty. Where this is true, it still is not malpractice for the lawyers to refuse to accept pro bono clients.
REFUSING TO ACCEPT A PRO BONO LEGAL MATTER, OR CLIENT, OFTEN IS NOT MALPRACTICE
Even if a lawyer or a law firm has a legally binding obligation to perform pro bono legal work (which is often not the case), it is not necessarily malpractice for those lawyers to refuse to accept a specific pro bono client or matter. This is because:
- A lawyer’s duties concerning which cases (s)he can and cannot accept apply to pro bono matters also.
- Whether or not to accept any client is always a facts and circumstances decision, and not as simple as “you must do this.”
- If the acceptance of pro bono work is governed by contractual obligations, the pro bono client or matter must satisfy those obligations
Although other reasons are relevant too, these three should be enough to demonstrate that the decision whether or not to take on a client or matter–including pro bono cases–always requires a thorough evaluation of the relevant facts and circumstances. Deciding whether a lawyer’s behavior qualifies as professional negligence (malpractice) involves detailed analysis that cannot be answered by this or any other general article alone. If you think a lawyer has committed malpractice–or any other illegal or actionably improper conduct–in your case or toward you, contact a qualified lawyer for an evaluation of your legal rights and possible claims without delay.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your legal rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal rights or claims. Consult an experienced attorney promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, potential damages, and the various legal rights and options available to you.
You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses), as well as legal and court procedures, are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your individual rights and claims. Please be aware that you may lose, or damage, your rights and claims if you delay.