Member Groups

The Challenge
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law

June 2017, vol. 27, no. 3

Pro bono opportunities: Plan on serving in 2017

Pro Bono Month in Illinois is in October. However, there is no need to wait until October if you are interested in providing services to our communities. We will discuss answers to the following questions, in hopes to lead you to providing your time and service to our community: What is pro bono? Why should we provide such services? Do I have the time? These are just some of the questions you may be asking yourself. Below are locations where you can provide your much needed time and efforts.

What is Pro Bono?

You likely already know the need for pro bono services, if not, let me remind you. Pro bono are “services performed, without charge or expectation of a fee” particularly to “persons of limited means or organizations that serve persons of limited means.”1 Pro bono service does not include: legal services performed to develop a paying client (e.g. a free initial consultation to a potential paying client) or legal services for which payment was expected, but not collected. It also does not include free legal services provided for family or friends who are not of limited means. And, it does not include pro bono activities you performed as part of your paying job responsibilities.

I have sat in 30 or more law school graduations, and every year the message by honorary speakers has been the importance of participating in pro bono service and the need of our community. Pro Bono is short-hand for the Latin phrase pro bono publico, meaning “for the public good.”2 Pro Bono work is not just beneficial to the specific clients that are helped. It helps reinforce and reinvigorate our community by ensuring access to justice and the protections of the law, even for those who cannot afford to pay for counsel.

How Pro Bono benefits you

There are also benefits to attorneys who engage in pro bono practice.

Experienced attorneys often specialize in discrete areas of the law, pro bono practice is an excellent way for these attorneys to experience areas of the law they would normally not handle.

Newer attorneys often do not have the experience from the firm to allow them to take the lead at trial. Pro bono practice can provide experience in motion practice, drafting, and arguing either before the judge or at trial, and allow these attorneys to take the lead on cases to foster independence.

Pro Bono practice provides an opportunity for attorneys of all practice areas to handle novel legal issues and theories they might not normally experience.

The misconception is that Pro Bono involvement takes too much time or that it interferes with work or a busy schedule. However, there are many small matters which have a great impact on a person in need. Some Pro Bono work can even be done over the phone or internet like Skype! Helping a client fill out forms, find out where they need to file a document, or look up technical requirements for filing can be quickly addressed utilizing technology without requiring the time-commitment of scheduling an in-person appointment.

The Illinois Supreme Court has altered the rules to allow limited scope agreements with clients who cannot, or choose not, to pay for all services in a case.3 Supreme Court Rule 13(c)(6) permits and describes the procedures for attorneys to engage in limited scope appearances in civil proceedings only. This opens up avenues for attorneys who may be able to assist preparing briefs (which does not even require filing an appearance by the attorney, under Rule 137(e)), representing a pro bono client for specific hearings, or who otherwise could not take on the burden of fully representing the client in the case, but can provide service for part of the matter.

Why Pro Bono Matters:

Let’s face it, legal services are expensive. Even simple matters that take just a couple hours can be more than families in need can reasonably afford.

Just in Cook County alone, over 1.4 million residents qualify for legal aid today, and close to half are expected to require legal services within the next year.4 Clinics and legal aid services can handle some of this load, but the sheer volume of possible meritorious cases for those in need is just too large for legal aid and clinics to handle alone.

There is no one area that Pro Bono work falls into. From criminal defense, prisoner’s rights cases, contract disputes, and property disputes, there is a place for every attorney to contribute in providing pro bono service. You just have to look for the right fit.

While many large firms have systems in place to encourage pro bono work, there is simply more to be done. Which is why we need your help. Not every attorney or firm is capable of running and maintaining a full pro bono program, but all attorneys have the training and skills necessary to provide much-needed assistance to the less fortunate among us.5 The John Marshall Pro Bono Clinic is attempting to bridge this gap.

Why and how you can help

WHY: The ABA’s Model Rule 6.16 states:

Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono (public) legal services per year. In fulfilling this responsibility, the lawyer should:

(a) provide a substantial majority of the (50) hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to:

(1) persons of limited means or

(2) charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means

Additionally, Illinois Supreme Court Rule 756(f)7 Disclosure of Voluntary Pro Bono Service states:

As part of registering under this rule, each lawyer shall report the approximate amount of his or her pro bono legal service and the amount of qualified monetary contributions made during the preceding 12 months.

(1) Pro bono legal service includes the delivery of legal services or the provision of training without charge or expectation of a fee, as defined in the following subparagraphs:

(a) legal services rendered to a person of limited means;

(b) legal services to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental or educational organizations in matters designed to address the needs of persons of limited means;

(c) legal services to charitable, religious, civic, or community organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes; and

(d) training intended to benefit legal service organizations or lawyers who provide pro bono services.

By registering with the Pro Bono Clinic, we can use our resources to find Pro Bono clients suited to you. Whether it is transactional work, litigation, or something else, we should be able to help find pro bono work for any attorney looking for a way to give back to the community.

There are also other great pro bono programs listed below that you can directly contact for additional opportunities.

Why we need you

Because of the diverse cases and issues brought to the clinic from people in need, we believe every attorney is needed to answer the call and provide the legal services so desperately needed by those who cannot afford proper counsel.

Every day dozens of cases must be referred out to other agencies or sources because we simply do not have the staff or capability to assist every person in need of legal assistance. However, with your help we might be able to put a dent in this issue. The Pro Bono Clinic already has a dedicated infrastructure for taking in and aggregating cases from people all over the state. By contacting the Pro Bono Clinic, you can directly find pro bono work that comes through our system.

In particular, The John Marshall Law School’s Pro Bono Program & Clinic would like to reach out to attorneys for whom conflict issues, or institutional clients make it difficult to find pro bono work that doesn’t violate policy guidelines restricting representation.

All attorneys have valuable skills and a desire to assist the public. It is our hope that we can provide attorneys with matters they can resolve without raising conflict issues or violating their other obligations. With so many people in need of help, we cannot afford to have such talent sidelined.

Judges can help too

Even Judges, who are prohibited from engaging in legal work under Canon 5F of the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct, can play a crucial role.8 Canon 4A expressly permits Judges to write, teach, and speak about the law, and it is in this capacity that they can help.9

Pro Bono work as defined by the Illinois Supreme Court Rules includes pro bono training intended to benefit legal services organizations or lawyers who provide pro bono services. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of students and attorneys engaged in pro bono practice who could benefit from the experience of active and former judges.

More than anyone else in the legal system, Judges understand the requirements and reasons why motions and other arguments will or will not be allowed, and what steps pro bono lawyers can take to ensure their pro bono clients have the best opportunity to succeed under the law. Even just by lecturing on common procedural mistakes that defeat cases regularly, Judges can help pro bono attorneys by teaching them how to avoid the pitfalls that commonly keep otherwise meritorious cases from being heard.

Further, Judges are in a unique position to notice which kinds of cases are most litigated pro se and where the presence of a pro bono attorney might have saved a case by utilizing their professional skills and talents, and bring attention to pro bono clinics and providers of the kinds of cases that most need the attention so that we can provide better legal services to the community.10

Finally, we need Judges to continue participating in the Bar Associations, providing guidance and dialogue to make our system better.11

Additionally there are other great services available:

These are just a few organization in need of your help. Pick the best fit for you.

• ABA Center for Pro Bono; at <>

• PSJD; at <>

• Equal Justice Works; at <>

• Military Pro Bono Project; at <>.

• ILAO (Illinois Legal Aid Online); at <>

• PILI; at <>

• The John Marshall Law School’s Pro Bono Program & Clinic, <>


The modern age and technological advancements have brought society closer together than ever before. It is time for us to create the tools necessary to ensure that any attorney or judge who has the desire to help has access to the means to do so. The Pro Bono Clinic and many other legal aid providers open their arms to the legal community, so that you can do your part in helping others in need of legal service.


J. Damian Ortiz, is a professor and the director of The John Marshall Law School’s Pro Bono Program & Clinic. He is also a long time member of the ISBA and active member in the Racial & Ethnic Minorities & the Law Diversity and the Judicial Evolutions committees.


1. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 756(f).

2. <>

3. Illinois Supreme Court Rules 11, 13, and 137 and Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2 <>, <>, <>, <>

4. Chicago Bar Foundation’s 11th Investing in Justice Campaign <>

5. <>

6. <>

7. <>

8. <>

9. Id.

10. <>

11. <>