“We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.” - Sir Winston Churchill

Are you in desperate need of some legal advice? Does the idea of being served with a hefty bill when you visit an attorney scare you? If you are in need of a lawyer but cannot seem to afford the services of one, you have stumbled upon the right article to read.

This article was also written bearing the law graduate in mind. You have completed your law degree and are looking to intern at one of the biggest law firms in the country. If you would like to know about how pro bono work becomes part and parcel of your internship at a law firm, read on.

You may have heard the Latin term, “pro bono,” before. The term is loosely thrown around in the field of law but sometimes the same term is used synonymously with voluntary work.

So what does pro bono work actually entail?

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What In Essence Is Pro Bono Work?

In essence, pro bono work is the free legal service that lawyers provide to the general public who cannot afford their services.

The translation of the Latin term pro bono is  "for the good of the public."

Are lawyers who engage in pro bono work actually volunteers? Well, voluntary work can be done by almost anyone and need not require a professional to perform the task. Pro bono work is undertaken by skilled professionals who have the necessary degrees and specialisations to carry out this type of legal work.

Pro bono work does not only mean work performed without the acceptance of a fee but also extends to work done at reduced rates or for a fraction of the cost.

Why is pro bono work necessary in the field of law? Well, legal aid does not come cheap! This fact is what probably got you interested in studying law in the first place. So while attorneys charge clients for every minute of their time spent giving legal advice in the form of writing, a phone call, or even for in-person legal advice, not everyone in South Africa can afford this type of intensive legal aid.

If a grievance occurs and you need to resolve the dispute, you first need to be able to pay the costs that you may incur by taking the grievance up. The rate charged by a lawyer may be far too hefty for you. So how do you settle your legal dispute? Sometimes, attorneys or advocates can give people like you the chance to get justice by providing you with the legal aid that you seek free of charge. Some lawyers will offer their expertise and services for free but they may charge you a fee for the travel charges incurred. Paying for your lawyer's travel fees only may still be considered a far too generous act done by these professional lawyers.

well-dressed woman carrying folders
An advocate will represent you in court. - Source: Pexels

Nevertheless, the idea of receiving the legal aid that you seek for free sounds like a dream come true.

You must remember that all lawyers (regardless of their field of expertise) can partake in pro bono work.

Do your research on the different types of lawyers by reading this article.

Pro Bono Lawyers in South Africa

Have you heard about the Pretoria Society of Advocates also known as the Pretoria Bar?  The Pretoria Bar is the voluntary association of advocates who have formed a committee to provide their services to the general public. The Pretoria Bar was formed in an attempt to mimic the bar tradition that had been started in the United Kingdom.

All advocates that are a part of Pretoria Bar are independent advocates providing legal aid in their personal capacity to those citizens from low-income families.

It is through these bars and committees that advocates offer their time. In fact, it is the responsibility of every lawyer to provide services to those people who cannot afford them. Paralegals also have to engage in a certain amount of pro bono work hours per year and thus paralegals can also be roped in to provide legal advice within their jurisdiction.

Who qualifies for free legal aid? In South Africa, a Means Test is used to determine who makes the cut for free legal assistance. Anyone who feels that they need the legal aid will be made to fill out a form which will be used to ascertain how much the person earns monthly and what other assets the person owns. Assistance is provided to fill out this form as well.

What kind of cases can pro bono lawyers tackle? Pro bono lawyers are simply paralegals, attorneys, or advocates giving their time to serve the public and these lawyers may work on cases that involve:

  • Discrimination: this refers to discrimination of any sort including workplace discrimination
  • Employment: labor law issues such as unfair dismissals can be taken on by pro bono lawyers
  • Family: divorce, separation, and other family-related issues can be taken on by pro bono lawyers as well
  • Housing: safety issues pertaining to rental homes may also lead to a court case
  • Education: issues with special needs students and cases of exclusions within the schooling system may all be tackled by the lawyer
  • Debt: bankruptcy and other such debt-related issues may be addressed by pro bono lawyers
  • Personal injury: an accident of physical and emotional injury may be discussed with a lawyer
  • Domestic abuse: child abuse cases, forced marriage, or harassment by an ex-partner can also be dealt with by the lawyer
man in suit handing file across desk
Your attorney will refer you to an advocate when the situation requires it. - Source: Pexels

Again, whether a lawyer takes on your case free of charge or not depends entirely on your financial situation. However, don’t despair, many attorneys and advocates are fully capable of privately accepting pro bono cases and perhaps your case will be heard by an attorney or advocate.

Is it only individuals who cannot afford lawyers who qualify for legal aid from lawyers? Actually,  pro bono lawyers may also provide legal aid and financial resources to organisations that support various social causes.

You must remember that according to the American Bar, every law graduate should seek to devote at least 50 hours of pro bono service per year. It was seen that in America almost 20 percent of lawyers never actually did any pro bono work because of a lack of time. Since 2015, South Africa has mandated a reasonable amount of pro bono work for our lawyers. A mere 24 hours per year of free legal advice needs to be given by attorneys to those who qualify for the service.

Remember you need not be a bigshot attorney working for a well-renowned law firm in order to volunteer your service. Even law students can show some dedication towards helping by volunteering alongside other professional attorneys during their years of study.

Pro Bono Attorneys

Legal Aid South Africa will provide assistance to the South African public in terms of civil law and criminal law issues.

In fact, Legal Aid South Africa has a mandate from the constitution to help the poor get tax-funded assistance.

What happens if you are given the services of an advocate for free?

Advocates help with certain facets of your legal matter, and will even represent you in court or provide you with written legal advice.

When an advocate is offering his or her services free of charge, the advocate usually does not provide the client with any administrative support and does not issue any letters for you.

The legal representation offered by pro bono lawyers is limited and advocates usually devote time to advising you on a single aspect of your case only.

Attorneys can help you by providing you with legal advice but would be unable to represent individuals in a court of law.

person filing documents
Law students and lawyers of all types volunteer their time to multiple organisations and individuals. - Source: Pexels

Remember it is a common misconception to believe that lawyers with the best education and the biggest titles are best to handle your case. There are many advocates and attorneys who may not be as well renowned but may still be fully capable of addressing your legal issue.

Law tutors can assist you with understanding more about how pro bono services work in South Africa. Who knows law tutors who are qualified lawyers may even provide you with the best possible legal advice as well (free of charge).

Did you know that some of the biggest law firms based in Johannesburg and Cape Town offer pro bono services to clients who have been turned down everywhere else?

While you may not instinctively think of calling every big law firm in times of crisis, knowing which companies value pro bono work may very well help during your time of legal need

WERKSMANS Attorneys founded in 1917 is one such law firm that places emphasis on taking on pro bono clients. Pro bono work is constantly undertaken by qualified lawyers working for the firm. The law firm is driven by the need to assist those who cannot afford legal care.

WERKSMANS Attorneys is but one mere example of top South African law firms that place an emphasis on pro bono work. Read about the other law firms in South Africa as well.

It is important to remember that if you really need legal advice, there are lawyers willing to assist you. It also helps to know that working at a big law firm means partaking in a fair amount of pro bono work as well. Will you be the type of lawyer who will be committed to doing pro bono work? Are you willing to compromise on your earnings from time to time and engage in helping the public?

Robert Louis Stevenson once said, "Compromise is the best lawyer."

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Laila

Laila is an enthusiastic English educator and a fun-filled freelance writer. She has accomplished her dream of getting her first book published and has managed to write over 1 000 000 words since beginning her freelance career. In her free time, she is a travel blogger who explores all South Africa has to offer.