What is Pro Bono?



Pro bono, short for pro bono publico (Latin), translates literally as "for the public good." Pro bono service is legal work donated by lawyers for the public good, typically to help poor people with legal problems or organizations involved in social causes.

The Oregon State Bar defines pro bono in its bylaws as part of an aspirational standard for Oregon lawyers:

Bylaw 13.1. Pro bono publico or pro bono service includes all uncompensated services performed by lawyers for the public good. Such service includes civic, charitable and public service activities; as well as activities that improve the law, the legal system and the legal profession. The direct provision of legal services to the poor, without an expectation of compensation, is one type of pro bono service. Each lawyer in Oregon should endeavor annually to perform 80 hours of pro bono services. Of this total, the lawyer should endeavor to devote 20 to 40 hours or to handle two cases involving the direct provision of legal services to the poor, without an expectation of compensation. If a lawyer is unable to provide direct legal services to the poor, the lawyer should endeavor to make a comparable financial contribution to an organization that provides or coordinates the provision of direct legal services to the poor.

The American Bar Association defines pro bono in its Model Rule somewhat differently than the Oregon standard.


Why do pro bono?


  • Help meet legal needs of the poor in Oregon
  • Choose among a variety of case types and gain broad legal experience
  • Develop community contacts
  • Receive PLF coverage for pro bono with certified pro bono programs
  • Earn recognition from the Oregon State Bar
  • Improve the image of lawyers
  • Impress voters if you are seeking a judicial appointment
  • Consider Active Pro Bono status as an alternative to inactive status
  • Count your volunteer time as billable hours or other credit in your law firm (check with your firm to see whats possible)


"When it comes to volunteer work, I believe you get backeverything you give (and more) – in the form of personal growth, knowledge and satisfaction. You will fulfill your passion while building a stronger community."

Robert Newell, "Giving back for its own sake is best reward," Business Journal, August 12, 2005. Newell, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, was honored by the OSB for contributing 495 pro bono hours to area organizations in 2004.



Frequently Asked Questions about Pro Bono in Oregon


  • Are Oregon State Bar members required to do pro bono service?
  • What qualifies as pro bono service under the OSB Aspirational Standard?
  • Can I be a non-practicing member of the bar and still do pro bono?
  • Where can I find pro bono opportunities in my area?
  • How do I sign up to do pro bono?
  • What resources are available to me as a pro bono attorney?
  • Many lawyers do not have expertise in poverty law. Does that cause a problem?
  • Lots of informal pro bono takes place in my community. Why is organized pro bono so important?
  • I'm active at church and/or with civic organizations. Isn't that enough?
  • How are Oregon lawyers recognized for pro bono service?
  • What about malpractice issues?
  • What is the Pro Bono Roll Call?
  • What is the Pro Bono Challenge?
  • Can I help by donating money?


Are Oregon State Bar members required to do pro bono service?
No, a lawyer's decision to provide pro bono services is entirely voluntary. The bar has established an aspirational standard that Oregon lawyers endeavor annually to perform 80 hours of pro bono services, with 20 to 40 hours or two cases involving the direct provision of legal services to the poor.


What qualifies as pro bono service under the OSB Aspirational Standard?
The Aspirational Standard considers all uncompensated services performed by lawyers for the public good as pro bono. This includes direct legal services; civic, charitable and public service activities; and activities that improve the law, the legal system and the legal profession.


Can I be a non-practicing member of the bar and still do pro bono?
Yes, through active pro bono status.

The Active Pro Bono category is available to attorneys in good standing who agree to provide pro bono legal services to indigent clients referred by pro bono programs certified under BOG Bylaw 13.2; who do not engage in the practice of law except for the provision of pro bono services specified above or in volunteer service on the SPRB, the LPRC, the Disciplinary Board, or as Bar counsel; and who obtain professional liability coverage through the Professional Liability Fund or the program referring the pro bono cases.


Where can I find pro bono opportunities in my area?
Visit the Pro Bono Volunteer Opportunities for Oregon Lawyers page to search by substantive area and geographic region.

Learn more about pro bono opportunities


How do I sign up to do pro bono?
Find opportunities on the Pro Bono Volunteer Opportunities for Oregon Lawyers page. Contact the programs directly to volunteer your time.


What resources are available to me as a pro bono attorney?
Visit the Pro Bono Resources for Oregon Attorneys page for a list of resources.


Many lawyers do not have expertise in poverty law.
Does that cause a problem?

No. Training/continuing legal education (CLE) seminars are generally an important part of pro bono projects. This helps to guarantee that clients will receive the most effective service possible, and volunteers can be confident in knowing that they have been well-prepared. In addition, many programs have mentors available to assist lawyers who are less experienced in dealing with poverty issues.


Lots of informal pro bono takes place in my community.
Why is organized pro bono so important?

Organized pro bono generally operates more effectively and efficiently for clients and participating lawyers than does informal pro bono.


Im active at church and/or with civic organizations. Isnt that enough?
The OSB Pro Bono Aspirational Standard recognizes and applauds community service of any type. But because attorneys have a monopoly on the provision of legal services, they are the only people in our society who can directly respond to the problem of unequal access to justice. Lawyers therefore have a professional obligation to help those individuals who would otherwise be unable to afford legal assistance.


How are Oregon lawyers recognized for pro bono service?
The Oregon State Bar Pro Bono Program recognizes lawyers participating in the Pro Bono Roll Call who meet the bars pro bono aspirational standard by listing them in the annual OSB Pro Bono Honor Roll. The Oregon State Bar New Lawyers Division recognizes individual lawyers and law firms for exceptional pro bono service in the Pro Bono Challenge.


What about malpractice issues?
OSB-certified programs usually provide free malpractice (PLF) insurance to volunteers.


What is the Pro Bono Roll Call?
The Pro Bono Roll Call celebrates Oregon lawyers by recognizing the pro bono work they provide each year. The OSB Board of Governors voted unanimously in 2002 to collect the number of pro bono hours performed annually by each member of the bar. The OSB Pro Bono Program coordinates this effort.

Participation in the Pro Bono Roll Call is voluntary. To join, simply keep track of your annual pro bono service and support, and report them at the end of the year on the OSB website. The Pro Bono Roll Call period covers activities from January 1 through December 31 of each year. The Multnomah Bar Association, Legal Aid Services of Oregon, and the Oregon Law Center also recognize outstanding pro bono service.


What is the Pro Bono Challenge?
In coordination with the Pro Bono Roll Call, the OSB Oregon New Lawyers Division sponsors an annual Pro Bono Challenge. The Pro Bono Challenge tallies the hours reported in the Voluntary Legal Representation category of the Pro Bono Roll Call.

Winners are recognized for contributing the most hours in each Challenge group: Sole Practitioner, Active Pro Bono, Law Student, Law School, Law Firm (small, medium, and large), and individual at a firm.

The 2009 Pro Bono Challenge reflected almost 72,000 hours of free direct legal services to the poor reported by lawyers. At an hourly rate of $200, the services would be valued at more than $14 million!

Participate in the Challenge by reporting your pro bono hours online.


Can I help by donating money?
Yes. The OSB Pro Bono Aspirational Standard encourages lawyers who are unable to provide direct legal services to low-income clients to make a comparable financial contribution to an organization that provides or coordinates the provision of direct legal services to low-income clients.