Professional Responsibility and Ethics

Professional Responsibility and Ethics

Pro bono student volunteers are expected to follow all rules of professional responsibility. When you accept a pro bono project you are making a professional commitment to your supervisor and their client.

  • Clarify with your supervising attorney deadlines, goals and work expectations before you accept a project.
  • Keep your supervisor regularly updated and advised of all case developments.
  • Ask questions early and as needed to understand your assignment.
  • Complete all work on time.
  • Contact your supervisor or the Pro Bono Program ( immediately if you are unable to complete the project by the agreed upon deadline. Except for clearly exigent circumstances, all work should be submitted on time.

Your supervisor should discuss the rules of professional responsibility when you begin your pro bono project. If you are unclear about your ethical obligations in any situation, consult your supervising attorney or the Pro Bono Program

Be aware of and avoid:

1.  Unauthorized Practice of Law: Law students may not give legal advice unless they are under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Students who have their third-year practice certificate can, with attorney supervision, appear in court.

2.  Conflicts of Interest: Volunteers must avoid actual or potential conflicts. Conflicts can arise from pro bono projects, law school clinics, externships, summer internships or personal contacts. Pro bono supervisors should screen for conflicts in advance. If you believe you have a conflict notify your supervisor.

3.  Client Confidentiality: Confidentiality rules are broad and designed to protect the interests of clients. Confidentiality applies not only 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 or their representation without the permission of your supervising attorney. Disclosing even minor details about a case could compromise the client.

Serving Clients as a Law Student Pro Bono Volunteer (courtesy of the Legal Aid Justice Center)


Sara DeStefano

Sara DeStefano '19

"I enrolled at the University of Virginia with the intent of both keeping my Spanish language skills sharp and using them to provide better access to legal services for Spanish speakers. The Pro Bono Program provided me with opportunities to do just that. "