Pro Bono and Professional Responsibility
If you are offered a pro bono project, it is important to 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.
- Keep your supervising attorney updated and advised of all case developments.
- Ask questions of your supervisor as necessary to fully understand your assignments.
When doing pro bono work, you are responsible for following all applicable ethical rules and standards for professional responsibility. Your supervisor should discuss these rules with you. If you are unclear about your ethical obligations in any situation, consult your supervising attorney immediately. The three ethical issues listed below are important to understand and be aware of.
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 potential 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, externships, summer internships, or 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 rules, you should not discuss or disclose any information regarding a client and their representation without express permission from your supervising attorney. 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 any concerns regarding professional responsibility. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.