What is Pro Bono?

By Khushi Popli


Often misunderstood, even overlooked, the term pro bono comes from the Latin phrase pro bono publico, translated as “for the public good”. It is an umbrella term for legal services performed free of charge, or at reduced fees, for those in dire need.

The need for pro bono law is as evident today as it may have been years ago.



PRO BONO CASE STUDY: INDIA, 2019

To those who may be unaware of the political riots that unfolded in India last year:

In December 2019, the Indian government enacted the extremely controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). This changes Indian citizenship circumstances for Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian illegal migrants who entered India before 2014 from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan following religious persecutions. The bill does not mention Muslims and other communities who also escaped from such countries.

The amendment was widely revolted against, leading to widespread national protests. Thousands of people were detained, with many being arrested; this is where pro bono lawyers came into play.

Financially weak citizens who could not opt for constitutional remedies were reached out to by lawyers offering their services (many of which were free of charge). Not only did this prove to be an extremely useful instance of hands-on experience for budding social activists and lawyers, but it was also a rare opportunity to stand in solidarity with the community while still exercising knowledge and skills.

Delving into the more practical aspect of law pertaining to associates and students in general:


WHY SHOULD I BOTHER TO DO IT?

This is a common question asked by many aspiring lawyers, the answer to which is multifaceted:

  1. Gain experience. Pro bono work can provide every law student and associate with a plethora of invaluable skills: organisation, client-management, oral advocacy. Through practical, on-the-ground experience, pro bono cases can help budding lawyers form lasting relationships with like-minded people outside their existing networks; this will prove an indispensable asset in the future.

  2. Community service. This is possibly the most important aspect of pro bono work. Pro bono gives you the opportunity to leverage your legal skills by substantially impacting the needy in your community. Representing vulnerable, affected and under-resourced groups of society can not only put your legal skills and knowledge to use, but also change the lives of millions of people in need of free legal services. Your pro bono work can, literally, pave the path for the helpless, give voice to the unheard, and bridge the gap in society.

  3. Get exposed to new perspectives. Pro bono law can prove to be a crucial step in helping legal associates to explore other spheres of law and expand their skills. Most importantly, you are likely to be exposed to a myriad of social and cultural problems that you may not have been aware of, providing valuable insight into the real world.

In conclusion, the realm of pro bono law is too large to be encapsulated in one article. Having said that, it definitely stands as an irreplaceable way to gain new experience, learn new skills, and give back to the community.

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