How to Hire Pro Bono Lawyers

in User Help Last updated Feb 19, 2018

Legal situations can be stressful, right?

They are usually unexpected and come at the most inconvenient times.

Most people don’t factor “law services” into their yearly budget.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a tight situation and can’t afford a lawyer?

Stay with us – there’s an answer.

You can hire a pro bono lawyer.

Pro bono is short for the Latin phrase pro bono publico meaning “for the greater good”. Pro bono lawyers provide free services to clients who can’t afford a lawyer.

If you are in need, we will guide you through the process of hiring a pro bono lawyer to represent your case.

Let’s begin…

#1 Assess Your Situation

assess your situation for pro bono legal help

Many circumstances could arise where you need a lawyer, but can’t afford one. 

There are several ways to get a lawyer on your side. The first step is reflecting on your current circumstances and realizing what you need.

Consider your financial situation for a moment –

  • Are you in need of free services?
  • Are reduced fees a possibility?
  • Do you need time to save for services, but aren’t below a certain level of income?

If you are absolutely needing services provided by pro bono lawyers, this article is for you.

However, if you need information about reduced fees, sliding scales, contingency fees, and more, stay with me because this is also for you.

More on those later, though…

Even though you are needing free services, you deserve a lawyer who will dedicate time to your case. They also need to take it as seriously as you do.

During this time, you will want to determine which practice area your case falls under. For some quick information about practice areas.

No matter the practice area though, you will want to do extensive research if you are not choosing to have a lawyer appointed to your case.

That brings us to our next step - talking about options for hiring pro bono lawyers.

#2 Know Your Options

You are probably familiar with this part of the Miranda Rights -

“You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.”

Every American has the right to a fair trial and a lawyer to defend them.

But, what do you do if you can’t afford one?

If you can’t afford a lawyer, you have two main choices for hiring pro bono lawyers.

You can reach out to law schools, legal aid clinics, public defenders, or full-price lawyers who offer pro bono hours.


The government will assign one to you.

These work similarly, but have notable differences.

Finding a Pro Bono Lawyer on your own

For the first option, you will research and find pro bono lawyers in the same way you would find lawyers you’d pay full price for.

Most areas have local public defenders and legal aid clinics. Research the ones closest to you with the best reviews. If you choose to go this route, give them a call as soon as possible. Their schedules fill up quickly!

There are also some lawyers who offer a certain number of pro bono service hours throughout the year. 

You may have found a great lawyer during your research for pro bono lawyers. Even if you can’t afford them, it wouldn’t hurt to give them a call and check if they have pro bono hours available in their schedule.

You never know until you ask.

Government Assigned Attorney

If you are choosing for the government to assign a lawyer to you, you will not have to research and find one yourself.

You will be informed of who has been assigned to your case. Then, you can strategize with your lawyer and make a plan.

If you are incarcerated, the lawyer will visit you in jail to discuss your case. If you aren’t, then you can call, go to consultations, and meet with them as usual.

Types of Pro Bono Lawyers

As discussed, there are four types of pro bono lawyers. Here are quick definitions of each -

  • Law students: Sometimes law students are required to work pro bono cases in order to graduate. Other times, they choose to voluntarily. It is an important way for students to gain real world experience before receiving their degrees.
  • Licensed, full-price lawyers: Many licensed lawyers devote time to pro bono cases. They typically have a set number of hours each year that they set aside for free services.
  • Public Defender: A public defender is a lawyer that is provided to those who can’t afford one. They make a living working pro bono cases in the local Public Defender’s Office.
  • Legal Aid Clinic: These are non-profit law firms who provides free services to those who are low-income. Many Legal Aid Clinics offer regularly scheduled Self-Help Clinics for individuals to learn how to do some law services themselves.

The most important part is that you’re going with the best fit for your situation.

Not being able to afford a lawyer is already a frustrating situation to be in. It is crucial to do your research and outline your options so you can ensure that you have the best chance of winning your case.

types of pro bono lawyers
Beware of Scams…

It can be tempting to go with a particular lawyer because they are cheap or free.

Be wary of scams and lawyers who won’t treat you or your case ethically. Even if you can’t afford an expensive lawyer, you should still be respected.

Look out for these warning signs when you meet or call with prospective lawyers–

  • They tell you to pay more for better quality work.
  • They make promises about the outcome of your case.
  • They solicit and harass you.
  • They are secretive about their credentials.
  • Something seems off.

Trust your instincts if pro bono lawyers do any of these things. It is best to cut ties, and find a lawyer who will competently defend your case.

After all, your life is in their hands.

#3 Read on if you CAN pay, but need time to save.

Hiring a lawyer can be expensive. There’s no doubt about that.

Some people find themselves in the financial state where they don’t qualify for pro bono services, but can’t afford a lawyer right now. They need time to save money.

If this is your situation, there are options.

Some attorneys charge by contingency fees, sliding scale fees, and bartering. 

Let’s discuss.

Contingency Fees

If you don’t have money upfront for law services, it would be beneficial to look at lawyers who charge by contingency fees. A contingency fee is when lawyers only charge if they win your case.

How do they get paid?

The lawyer’s earnings will come from the payment you are awarded if your case wins. This is usually a percentage, such as ⅓ or ¼. This percentage will vary from lawyer to lawyer.

Lawyers and firms who use contingency fees are often confident that they can win your case.

This can provide great peace of mind for you!

Sliding Scale Fee

Some lawyers offer sliding scale fees for their services. If you prove that you are below a certain level of income, you may be eligible for a reduced fee. This is an important question to ask lawyers as you meet with them.

This could be a good option if a successful lawyer offers this, but doesn’t have pro bono hours available for your case.


If you or a family member own a business or offer a service, you could talk with a lawyer about bartering. this means trading services that are worth approximately equal values. This is rare, but it is still an option for some clients.

This arrangement works particularly well if you have an established relationship with the lawyer before your case. It is more popular in rural areas too. If you live in a rural area and have good rapport with a lawyer, this could be an option for your case.


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