Pro Bono Projects, Ethics and Professional Behavior
If you are offered a pro bono project, act as professionally as you would if offered a summer internship or associate position. Clarify with the supervising attorney the timeframe, deadlines, goals and work expectations BEFORE you accept the pro bono project. Be sure you feel comfortable with the supervisor and the work assignments before agreeing to work on project. Remember, you have a professional responsibility to the supervising attorney and the client.
Like your supervising attorney, you must follow applicable ethical rules and standards for professional responsibility. Your supervisor should discuss these rules with you and ensure that they are being followed; however do not hesitate to ask for guidance and clarification as needed. Typical areas for attention and concern include:
Unauthorized Practice of Law: Law students may not practice law or give legal advice unless they are under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Students who have their third-year practice certificate can, under appropriate attorney supervision, make court appearances.
Conflicts of Interest: As a volunteer, it is important for you to be sure that you do not have any actual or possible conflicts with the pro bono matter you have been assigned. Supervisors should screen for conflicts in advance, but if you think you might have a conflict, address this issue with your supervisor immediately. Conflicts can arise as a result of other pro bono work, participation in law school clinics, summer internships or associate positions, or through personal contacts.
Client Confidentiality: Confidentiality rules are broad and designed to protect the interests of clients. Confidentiality applies not just to direct client communications but also to, for example, documents, case files, intake memos, legal research and interviews with witnesses or other relevant parties. While there are exceptions to the confidentiality rule, you should not discuss or disclose any information regarding a client and their representation without express permission from your supervising attorney. Remember, particularly in smaller communities, even a few details about a case can allow someone to identify your client.
The staff of the Pro Bono Program is always available to discuss possible projects, answer your questions or address your unique concerns. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.