Pro Bono and Professional Responsibility
When 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 project.
- Keep your supervising attorney updated and advised of all case developments.
- Ask questions of your supervisor as necessary to fully understand your assignments.
- Complete all assigned work on time.
As a pro bono volunteer, you are responsible for following all applicable ethical rules and standards for professional responsibility. Your supervisor should discuss these rules with you as you begin the project. If you are unclear or uncomfortable about your professional obligations consult your supervising attorney or the staff of the Pro Bono Program.
These three ethical issues are particularly important for pro bono volunteers:
1. 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, appear in court.
2. Conflicts of Interest: As a pro bono volunteer, you must avoid any actual or potential conflicts. Supervisors generally screen for conflicts in advance. If you think you have a conflict, notify your supervisor immediately. Conflicts can arise as a result of other pro bono projects, participation in law school clinics, externships, summer internships, or personal contacts.
3. 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 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 identify your client.
The staff of the Pro Bono Program are always available to discuss any concerns regarding professional responsibility. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.