How to Find Pro Bono Lawyers

You can find pro bono lawyers through various means. For example, some lawyers partner with legal aid offices and nonprofit organizations to provide free legal services. Also, many law firms have their own pro bono programs. Pro bono lawyers usually help low-income clients, and those clients generally have incomes below 125% of the poverty line. If you do not qualify for pro bono lawyer services, some low-cost legal assistance options are available.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 16, 2022

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  • Look to regular law offices, legal aid offices, and other nonprofits for pro bono lawyers
  • Public Counsel is a nonprofit organization that offers a full suite of pro bono lawyer services, including clinics and consultations
  • You may not qualify for a pro bono attorney if your income is well above the poverty line

How can you find free legal representation in your area, and how do pro bono lawyers get paid? Also, what are your options if you cannot get a pro bono lawyer?

Of course, pro bono refers to work — usually legal — that certain professionals donate to those in need. From its original Latin, the full term is pro bono publico, which translates to “for the public good.”

Pro bono lawyers generally work on some cases for free, but they sometimes have other funding sources to help them sustain their work.

Often, funding sources for pro bono lawyers are organizations that provide free legal help to people who need it most. In some cases, a lawyer can waive their active status license fee with their state’s bar association.

Whether you are looking for civil, immigration, family law, or other pro bono lawyers, we have some advice. Ultimately, you need to figure out if you qualify for such help, and you should also consider any affordable alternatives to pro bono lawyers.

How do you find pro bono lawyers?

Here are a few ways to obtain pro bono legal assistance:

  • Find firms that offer pro bono services to low-income clients. In many cases, American law firms offer these services to people who otherwise couldn’t afford to pay for representation. These law firms generally have many resources, meaning their attorney can afford to do occasional pro bono cases.
  • Look to your state bar association. Like the American Bar Association, these organizations encourage newer and experienced lawyers to donate some of their time each year to help clients in pro bono cases.
  • You can contact a legal aid office in your state. You can find a legal aid office near you online through the Legal Services Corporation, a national nonprofit. Legal aid offices mostly take civil cases, and they rarely handle criminal lawbankruptcy lawdivorce law, or personal injury law.

If you decide to go with a nonprofit organization, keep reading to view a list of top nonprofits below.

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What are some organizations that specialize in pro bono legal help?

Some of the top nonprofit organizations that help people who need free legal help include Public Counsel, the Innocence Project, and Pro Bono Net. These organizations each have a unique focus, but they offer a full range of services and tools.

Public Counsel

Public Counsel has been around since 1970, and it is the largest national provider of pro bono legal services. The nonprofit helps clients in the following areas:

  • Bankruptcy
  • Children, youth, and family law
  • Debt collection, foreclosure, and fraud
  • Eviction defense
  • Federal court
  • Housing and homelessness
  • Immigration
  • Nonprofit groups
  • Small businesses
  • Veterans
  • Women and girls

Public Counsel also offers clinics and self-help centers for people who want to represent themselves in cases. This nonprofit’s address is 610 South Ardmore Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90005. You can call Public Counsel at 213-385-2977 or send a fax to 213-385-9089.

The Innocence Project

Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck founded the Innocence Project in 1992 at the Cardozo School of Law. Their mission was to exonerate the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reform the criminal justice system.

The organization has helped free over 200 wrongly convicted individuals, and DNA evidence played a significant role in 81% of those cases. To contact the Innocence Project by phone, call 212-364-5340.

Pro Bono Net

Pro Bono Net, an organization operating since 1999, doesn’t directly provide legal services, but it has built a network to help those who need free legal assistance. This group’s partners include legal aid programs, courts, law firms, and immigrant rights groups.

Pro Bono Net created two other networks, LawHelp and Immigration Advocates Network. LawHelp allows people to access legal rights information and pro bono lawyer referrals. The Immigration Advocates Network supports immigrants and the community organizations that serve them.

Who qualifies for pro bono legal representation?

Not everyone is entitled to free legal services, but criminal defendants are. The state or county will provide public defenders in criminal cases to defendants. Alternatively, defendants can ask for a change in attorney and get help finding criminal pro bono lawyers.

If you need legal services in a civil court case, you need to find one yourself. However, doing so can be difficult, especially if you don’t qualify because of your income.

According to the American Bar Association, only people with incomes less than 125% of the federal poverty level qualify for free legal representation in most cases. Based on 2021 poverty guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services, this is what your income should be to qualify:

Adjusted 2021 Poverty Guideline (125% of the Poverty Line)
People in Your Household48 Contiguous States and D.C.AlaskaHawaii
More than 8Add $5,675 per additional personAdd $7,100 per additional personAdd $6,525 per additional person
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Even if your income is too high, some pro bono lawyers may help you. Beyond that, you may need to look for solutions to find affordable legal aid.

What are some alternatives to enlisting the help of pro bono lawyers?

If you need a lawyer but cannot afford a large retainer or lump sum payment, these are some of your options:

  • Contact your city’s courthouse. Some courts offer free assistance if you need to fill out paperwork in uncontested divorce cases. The court may also give you advice about your legal options.
  • Observe similar court cases. If you have the time, observe a few court cases over one or two weeks. You can see how legal proceedings work and know what to expect during your time in court.
  • Seek advice from law students. Many law schools run pro bono programs, and law students who participate in those programs may offer free legal advice for people who need it.
  • Get a free lawyer consultation. Some lawyers offer free consultations to give you advice on your case, especially if you’re representing yourself. These lawyers might refer you to pro bono lawyers in your area.

If you cannot find a pro bono lawyer, find one willing to work on contingency. If your case involves litigation, some lawyers offer contingency work. You will not have to pay the attorney if you lose your case, but the attorney will take a portion of your award if you win your case.

Also, find an attorney that offers lower rates. Some lawyers cap their fees and allow you to pay them in monthly installments.

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Pro Bono Lawyers: Tips and Considerations

Here are a few things you should consider before choosing a pro bono attorney:

  • Know if another party in your case has sought a lawyer.
  • Choose reputable attorneys who offer pro bono legal services.
  • Try to find a lawyer who specializes in your case type.
  • Make sure you are comfortable with your attorney because changing your counsel mid-case will delay your case.
  • If you must pay your lawyer, negotiate rates beforehand.

Ultimately, many cases require legal assistance from lawyers. Even if your case doesn’t go to court, attorneys play a crucial role in mediating the case and allowing you and another party to come to an amicable agreement.

We hope that this guide on finding pro bono lawyers was helpful to you. In the meantime, you can read more about the lawyer contingency fee or get quotes from top lawyers in your area if you need a low-cost option.

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