Frequently Asked Questions
- What is pro bono assistance, and why is it important?
- What are the benefits of engaging in pro bono work?
- As an attorney licensed in Washington, am I required to engage in pro bono work?
- What does it mean to be a Qualified Legal Service Provider?
- Can I volunteer in an area of law that is outside of my subject matter expertise?
- I am no longer practicing law or I do not wish to maintain active status with WSBA. Can I still volunteer?
- I am licensed to practice law outside of Washington state. Can I provide pro bono assistance to a client in Washington?
- Where can I find model pro bono policies for my organization?
- Where can I access guidance for pro bono representation, including CLEs and toolkits?
Pro bono is short for the Latin phrase pro bono publico, which means "for the public good." The term generally refers to services that are rendered by a professional for free or at a lower cost. Examples of pro bono assistance include:
- Taking a pro bono case
- Teaching a CLE
- Taking a low bono case
- Sitting on a WSBA Board or Committee
- Using legal skills to advise a nonprofit organization
Washington has a critical need for pro bono assistance to meet a critical access to justice gap. Over 70% of low-income Washington residents experience at least one civil legal issue each year. At least 76% of that population did not get any legal assistance either due to lack of resources or not knowing how to access them. Learn more about the Civil Legal Needs Study here.
This is where WSBA members can make a difference! Lawyers and LLLTs in Washington have a professional responsibility to assist in the provision of legal services to those unable to pay and should aspire to render at least 30 hours of pro bono public service per year. See RPC 6.1 and LLLT RPC 6.1.
Pro Bono Publico Honor Roll
Washington State Bar Association members who non-anonymously report 50 hours or more of pro bono publico service are added to the Pro Bono Publico Honor Roll. Honor roll members are recognized in the Bar News magazine and by the Washington Supreme Court, as well as through annual WSBA pro bono commendation projects.
Volunteers with Qualified Legal Services Providers also enjoy a range of additional benefits:
- MCLE Credit for Pro Bono Service: You can earn unlimited “other” MCLE credits for your pro bono work. For information on how to report your pro bono hours for CLE credits, click here
- Access to Free Public Service Education CLEs: The WSBA maintains a portfolio of CLE programs available to staff and pro bono volunteers of QLSPs that center around public service and pro bono topics. To gain access the free WSBA CLEs, email email@example.com with your Bar number and the QLSP you work or volunteer for. Additionally, any of the partner organizations and legal service providers also offer free CLE training to their volunteer legal professionals.
You are not required to participate in pro bono work, but it is strongly encouraged and the need is great. The Rule of Professional Responsibility 6.1 provides that "every lawyer has a professional responsibility to assist in the provision of legal services to those unable to pay." RPC 6.1 also provides that "a lawyer should aspire to render at least thirty (30) hours of pro bono publico service per year."
Qualified Legal Services Providers (QLSPs) are not-for-profit legal services organizations that meet the following criteria:
- The organization's primary purpose is to provide legal services to low-income clients, per APR 1(e)(8);
- The organization a financial screening mechanism in place to ensure clients are low-income;
- The organization either provides malpractice insurance for volunteers OR has a policy in place to require that all volunteers carry their own malpractice insurance;
- The organization ensures volunteers receive at least two hours of relevant training; AND
- The organization is located in Washington state or predominantly serves Washington state residents.
Most QLSPs are equipped to provide training, resources, and support to attorneys who wish to volunteer in a subject matter outside of their area of specialization.
Yes! You are likely eligible to apply for Pro Bono Status (formerly known as Emeritus Status). It is a great alternative to inactive status because it lets you provide pro bono legal services in your community for the same license fee.
Starting with the 2021 licensing year, the license fee will be waived for pro bono status members who completed at least 30 hours of pro bono service with one or more QLSP in the prior year. No other practice of law is permitted while on pro bono status. Pro bono status is governed by Rule 3(g) of the Washington Supreme Court's Admission and Practice Rules. For more information, click here.
Possibly. Washington has a limited license exception that allows lawyers licensed in another U.S. jurisdiction to provide legal services to indigents when applying, and while waiting to apply, to take the next Washington lawyer bar examination, or while their application is pending for admission by motion or UBE score transfer. Please review Washington Supreme Court Admission and Practice Rule (APR) 8(c) for all the limitations and responsibilities. For more information, click here.
The WSBA Pro Bono and Public Service Committee created three model pro bono policy templates that can be accessed, customized, and adopted by organizations in Washington State. Approved by the WSBA Board of Governors in July 2019, the three templates - one for law firms, a second for corporate and in-house legal departments, and a third for government entities – are intended to be a starting point for the creation and adoption of pro bono policies. Organizations are encouraged to customize the templates to best reflect their own strengths and goals. Organizations are welcome to reach out to the Pro Bono and Public Service Committee for assistance with finalizing and adopting a policy, or with identifying opportunities for pro bono work for the organization’s attorneys.
You can find links to a number of helpful resources for pro bono representation on our Resources page. In addition, the WSBA maintains a portfolio of approximately 20 free Public Service Education CLEs available to staff and pro bono volunteers of QLSPs. To access the CLEs for free, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your bar number and the name of the QLSP you work or volunteer for.