Pro Bono Work in Bankruptcy: Giving Back to the Community
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    Blog Specialist
    Published on Nov 17, 2023

    The term pro bono is short for pro bono publico, which translates to "for the public good" and refers to any professional services rendered at little to no cost. Professionals usually offer pro bono services to non-profit organizations and indigent members of the society. In this post, we will look into legal pro bono work within the scope of bankruptcy law.

    Without further ado, let's get into it!

    What Does Legal Pro Bono Work Really Entail?

    Following the above explanation, legal pro bono work essentially refers to free or highly subsidized legal services provided to members of society who do not have the agency to acquire quality legal services. 

    There are numerous reasons why legal institutions and professionals take pro bono work very seriously. To begin with, the legal profession has high ethical standards and thrives to achieve equality and justice in society. Pro bono work allows legal professionals to extend the protective element of the law to more vulnerable members of society, upholding the equitable nature of the law.

    Unlike traditional billable hours, legal professionals and institutions receive little to no pay for time spent on pro bono work. Nevertheless, lawyers are advised to record time spent working on pro bono cases to ensure the overall impact of pro bono work on society is measurable.

    The ABA recommends that each lawyer should strive to commit at least 50 hours out of their total billable hours per year to pro bono work. However, legal professionals may decide to devote more or less time, depending on their particular circumstances. 

    In the coming paragraphs, we will delve into the impact of pro bono work for attorneys and, more importantly, their clients.

    The Impact of Bankruptcy on Vulnerable Individuals

    Financial debt will take a toll on even the best of us. Studies have shown that individuals with poor financial status are more susceptible to mental distress, anxiety, and depression than financially buoyant individuals. The ripple effect is that poor psychological well-being prevents debtors from handling the situation to the best of their ability. This is why many hire bankruptcy attorneys.

    For debtors who cannot afford to hire competent bankruptcy lawyers to help them out of their financial situation, pro bono bankruptcy work may prove useful. Aside from the fact that they offer fresh and professional perspectives on navigating debt, the emergence of a competent bankruptcy expert serves as renewed hope for the indigent debtor. They feel less alone and immediately stand higher chances of paying off their debts.

    Benefits of Pro Bono Cases for Attorneys

    Mostly, pro bono cases favor the clients as they provide them with the agency to access the law, regardless of their financial status. Nonetheless, attorneys and legal firms can benefit from taking on pro bono cases. 

    Dedicating time and energy to pro bono cases exposes the attorney to various areas of law, broadening skillset. This is especially true for newer lawyers with little to no experience, as pro bono work provides a simulated work experience, allowing them to sharpen their leadership and communication skills and overall confidence on the job. This improved expertise will be valuable to the attorney during their normal billable hours and may increase their earning capacity.

    Furthermore, committing to pro bono work can be a good business investment for law firms in different ways. For instance, non-pro bono clients can be moved to hire a firm after hearing of their involvement in a certain pro bono case. Also, through pro bono work, attorneys and firms can network with high-profile members of society.

    Pro bono work also benefits the entire judiciary system and society at large. For instance, when an attorney represents a rape victim via pro bono work, the rapist will be brought to the book, preventing them from perpetuating the act to others. This also reduces the workload for an already overworked judicial system. 

    Ethical Considerations

    Although pro bono work is essentially altruistic and discretionary, the American Bar Association (ABA) has stipulated certain ethical obligations and responsibilities lawyers must adhere to while executing pro bono work.

    The ABA defines persons eligible to acquire pro bono work as those who qualify for participation in programs held by Legal Services Corporation and individuals whose earning capacities are slightly above the amount indicated in the programs but cannot afford counsel anyway. 

    The ABA's regulatory framework for handling pro bono cases also highlights that pro bono work must be carried out for free or at high subsidized rates. 

    Lastly, it is necessary to highlight that pro bono services are not restricted to individuals alone. Institutions such as NGOs and religious establishments can successfully seek pro bono services. 

    Resources and Support Available to Attorneys Doing Pro Bono Work

    Going by the ABA's yearly 50-hour benchmark for pro bono services, legal professionals may have to simply come to terms with the provision and arm themselves with resources and support to carry out their work effectively.

    The ABA website is the attorney's number resource center for pro bono work. The website has a dedicated tab for pro bono work called the Center for Pro Bono. The tab features a knowledge center, a National Pro bono opportunities guide, and State by State Listings for Pro Bono. All of these equip the lawyer for their pro bono work.

    The ABA calls on members of the society to volunteer to provide legal assistance via its Volunteer Opportunities tab. Through the Volunteer Opportunities forum, the legal association invites individuals, regardless of their practice or practice settings, to assist in pro bono work. The website contains information and resources to help volunteers kickstart their pro bono journey.

    How NextChapter can Facilitate Pro bono Work

    Another helpful resource that will prove useful for attorneys handling pro bono work is effective legal software. That being said, emerging legal software brand NextChapter is a robust legal software that combines multiple core features required by the attorney to execute their day-to-day roles. For instance, the software's built-in time-tracker allows bankruptcy attorneys to track and record time spent on pro bono work. 

    NextChapter also provides tools like NextChapter Docs, Client Texting and Paralegal as a Service.

    Getting Started and Overcoming Challenges

    Having explained what pro bono work is all about, we will round up this post by itemizing some practical tips attorneys can apply while navigating their pro bono experience. 

    1. Prepare Adequately

    The worst mistake an attorney could make is to handle their pro bono cases with levity because it is not a paid service. As mentioned earlier, pro bono cases benefit the attorney, too, so be sure to prepare thoroughly like you would for a paid service. Do adequate research, listen to your clients' stories, and consult senior lawyers when you deem fit.

    1. Explore

    While it may seem convenient to take up pro bono cases within one's area of law, it may be a good idea to use your pro bono experience as an opportunity to branch out. Since it's an unpaid service, it is wise to go for law fields that spark an interest, as that will serve as motivation. 

    Pro bono cases are very dynamic, ranging from bankruptcy law, Community Education and Outreach, contracts for non-profit organizations, divorce cases, and election law.

    1. Set Boundaries

    Pro bono work can get challenging and overwhelming, especially because most pro bono clients depend on their attorneys for their professional assistance as well as emotional support. 

    While trying to put your best foot forward for your clients, remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup: always check in with yourself and be careful not to take pro bono cases too personally such that it gets in the way of your work.

    Set reasonable boundaries with your clients if you need to.