What is Pro Bono?
The term "pro bono," which is short for pro bono publico, is a Latin term that means "for the public good."
Although the term is used in different contexts to mean “the offering of free services,” it has a very specific meaning to those in the legal profession. Georgetown Law strongly encourages students to engage in pro bono work while in law school and to carry this ethic forward as practicing attorneys.
Rule 6.1 of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, lays out the obligation of attorneys to engage in pro bono.
Why Do Pro Bono?
With Privilege Comes Responsibility
Law students are privileged to have the educational opportunity to acquire legal training, and to develop corresponding skills and abilities. These skills include the ability to problem-solve, strategize, conduct legal research and factual investigations, think logically, write, and speak well. Putting these skills to work for the benefit of others is precisely what the ABA’s model rule is about. Almost anyone can do volunteer work (tutoring, coaching soccer, etc.), but lawyers—and by extension law students—have a unique set of skills and knowledge that can be used to expand access to justice for whose might not otherwise have it. At Georgetown Law, we strive to inculcate a spirit of service in every student and to motivate students to use their unique skills and training for the benefit of others.
Practical Experience and a Break from Academics
Engaging in pro bono work gives you practical experience and a chance to see how lawyers operate in the real world. Law school courses are often academic and theoretical, whereas pro bono service is hands-on and puts you in touch with individuals and organizations struggling with real-life issues and challenges. It can be both refreshing and inspiring to leave the books behind and spend a few hours doing something for the benefit of others.
The Opportunity to Narrow or Expand your Career Choices
Perhaps you think you want to be a public defender after law school. You might find that interning for a public defender strengthens your interest in this field or informs you that it’s not for you. Conversely, you may know you want to be a policy advocate but would like to see what it’s like to be in a courtroom. Or, you might be planning to go into corporate law, but would like to find an area of pro bono practice that you can cultivate while there. Pro bono work can expose you to areas of practice that you might not otherwise be aware of or have the opportunity to engage, and lay the groundwork for future pro bono and professional opportunities.
Legal References and Work Samples
While you may have supervisors from previous jobs who will give glowing reviews of your work for them, most legal employers prefer references from fellow attorneys who can comment on your practical lawyering skills. A pro bono experience might even provide you with a suitable writing sample (provided you obtain permission before using it!).
If you are interested in pursuing a public interest career, whether straight out of law school or after working in the private sector for a few years, doing pro bono is invaluable for the networking opportunities it offers. In many cities, the public interest community is a small and dedicated group of individuals who are interconnected in numerous ways. They know how difficult it can be to find work in the public interest field, and are willing to go to bat for those they know and can vouch for. For students interested in making the transition from private sector to public interest at some point, it is essential to do pro bono work while you are at a firm to show that you are committed to public interest work.