Involving paralegals in pro bono can enhance the services a pro bono program provides, for both clients and for volunteers. Services can be enhanced by the provision of supportive services for volunteer attorneys or by the provision of additional services for clients. With attorney supervision, paralegals can perform a wide variety of activities within a pro bono program, including:
- Intake interviews
- Representation at administrative hearings
Paralegals are a large pool of potential volunteers for any pro bono program. Pro bono programs may contact the local paralegal association to recruit volunteers or develop pro bono projects. State bar associations may be another possible starting point, as many have a legal assistants section or committee. For more information on recruiting, including how to create a message and get the word out, visit the American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono's web page on recruiting.
Policy Encouraging Paralegal Pro Bono Service
Canon 1.4 of the National Federation of Paralegal Association’s (NFPA) Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility and Guidelines for Enforcement states that every paralegal should aspire annually to contribute twenty-four (24) hours of pro bono services under the supervision of an attorney or as authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority. In 1999, NFPA adopted the ABA’s Model Rule 6.1 definition of pro bono .
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) does not have an official policy regarding pro bono work by paralegals, however, the comments to Guideline No. 4 of NALA’s Annotated Model Standards and Guidelines for Utilization of Legal Assistants, states, “The working relationship between the lawyer and the legal assistant should extend to cooperative efforts on public service activities where possible.”
The ABA Standing Committee on Paralegals has long promoted paralegal participation in pro bono work through its Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services which states that lawyers should facilitate legal assistant participation in pro bono activities.
Resources Addressing Paralegal Pro Bono Involvement
The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Assistants' publication, How To Utilize Legal Assistants In Pro Bono Publico Programs, provides basic information on how paralegals may participate in pro bono. Topics covered include how to get started as a pro bono legal assistant, what supervision is necessary in a pro bono program, malpractice and ethics issues, and examples of programs that involve legal assistants in pro bono work.
The Fall 2003 UpDate, published by the ABA Standing Committee on Paralegals, contains articles on "Pro Bono & Paralegals: The Basics" and "Pro Bono Service as a Requirement: How Marymount University Launched Its Innovative Program." The Winter 2004 UpDate contains the article "Part 2: Pro Bono Service as a Requirement" as well as "Pro Bono: Getting Involved." The January/February (year?) edition of Paralegal Today contains the article Getting Into The Pro Bono Program Game which describes how a paralegal can develop a firm-wide volunteer program.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) has a web page showcasing pro bono efforts by NFPA and its members. Additionally, there is a NFPA Pro Bono Directory, with information about the NFPA Pro Bono Committee and pro bono opportunities.
A significant issue associated with paralegal pro bono is whether they are providing legal advice, in which case attorney supervision is required. For a discussion of the ethical issues surrounding provision of legal advice and the unauthorized practice of law, please visit Ethical Aspects of Providing Legal Advice and Legal Information, a complimentary audio-CLE program presented by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Services, its project the Center for Pro Bono and ABA CLE.
Examples of Projects that Facilitate Pro Bono Participation by Paralegals
- D.C. Bar’s Advice and Referral Clinic
- Colorado Bar Association Paralegal Committee and Rocky Mountain Paralegal Association Pro Bono Paralegal of the Year Award
- Georgia Association of Paralegals, Inc
- Legal Services of Northern Virginia Uncontested Divorce Legal Clinics
- Los Angeles Paralegal Association
- North Carolina Bar Association Legal Assistant Division Elder Law Clinic
- Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas
- Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland Walk-In Community Legal Clinics
If you are a paralegal who wants to engage in pro bono, or if you know a paralegal who does, see The National Pro Bono Volunteer Opportunities Guide to find a program best suited for your needs and interests.
For More Information
The ABA Center for Pro Bono's Clearinghouse library contains additional materials concerning ways to facilitate pro bono participation by paralegals, including brochures and articles. For more information, please contact the ABA Center for Pro Bono, by telephone at (312) 988-5766 or .