While there are various definitions throughout the country of what constitutes pro bono, the Illinois Supreme Court has adopted a reporting requirement for pro bono legal services and qualified monetary contributions in which the Court has defined pro bono for purposes of this Rule.
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 756(f) defines pro bono as legal services to persons of limited means; legal services to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, or educational organizations in matters designed to address the needs of persons of limited means; legal services to charitable, religious, civic, or community organizations in furtherance of their organizational purpose; or training intended to benefit legal aid organizations or lawyers who provide pro bono services. Under the Rule, attorneys also are encouraged to make monetary contributions “to an organization that provides legal services to persons of limited means or which contributes financial support to such an organization.”
The Illinois definition is based in part on Model Rule 6.1 of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which provides that all lawyers should render public interest legal service.
Examples of pro bono work or qualified monetary contributions
The types of contributions that count as pro bono work or qualified monetary contributions under the Rule are varied and countless. Examples include:
- Representing an indigent client in a landlord-tenant dispute
- Counseling a not-for-profit organization on tax matters, articles of incorporation, by-laws, or not for profit status
- Developing and presenting a training session on a substantive law topic for pro bono attorneys
- Funding the operations of a legal clinic which serves persons of limited means
Activities that do not qualify as pro bono work
Not all charitable activities qualify as pro bono work. Examples of activities that do not constitute pro bono work include:
- Serving on the board of a school district where the lawyer does not act as the district’s pro bono legal counsel
- Offering discounted fees to clients
- Attending continuing education seminars
- Fundraising for organizations
However, many attorneys find law-related charitable programs fulfilling such as the Corporate Legal Diversity Pipeline Program and Lawyers in the Classroom where attorneys teach students about the law and encourage them to consider careers in the legal profession.
Short-term, limited scope pro bono representation
Rule 6.5 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, which became effective on January 1, 2010, allows a lawyer to undertake a short-term, limited scope pro bono representation so long as the lawyer is unaware of any conflict of interest and other requirements of the rule are met.
Find more information on Rule 6.5.
Demystifying ideas about pro bono opportunities
Some people think that pro bono work only means representing a poor person in a litigation matter. However, many attorneys regularly engage in pro bono services on a wide variety of transactional matters as well. There is a broad range of case types and legal matters for which pro bono attorneys are needed. Lawyers should be encouraged to devote their pro bono hours and contributions to matters and causes in which they have a personal interest or commitment.