Pro bono work offers many benefits to clients and attorneys alike. For clients without the means to afford legal fees, the obvious benefit is free legal representation. Attorneys benefit from prestige within the profession, a sense of contributing to the good of society, and especially newer attorneys may benefit from the experience along with exposure to unfamiliar practice areas. What’s more, it often provides newer attorneys with flexibility in having more control over the strategy of cases than is customary with paying clients.
Despite the many learning opportunities for newer counsel, few attorneys may realize that the same standard of care applies to the legal representation of pro bono clients as it does with paying clients. Busy partners who are under pressure to spend their time on billable work may underestimate the risk and exposure of staffing inexperienced associates on pro bono cases without closely supervising their work. Concerns over effective assistance of counsel can be assuaged if the attorneys staffed on such a case have made sufficient efforts to competently represent the pro bono client through necessary study. [CRPC 3-110.] A recent malpractice lawsuit against Jones Day, one of the largest law firms in the world, provides a telling example of what happens when attorneys (allegedly) fail to exercise due care in assisting their pro bono clients even when those clients don’t pay for those legal services.
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