Meaning and context

The term pro bono, short for "pro bono publico", is a Latin term which means "for the public good". In practice, the term is used specifically in context of the legal profession- referring to the practice of giving voluntary legal advice to individuals and organisations that are unable to afford legal advice and/or cannot access legal aid. Those in genuine need of legal help are, thus, represented by lawyers for free or at a minimal cost – presenting them with an opportunity to meaningfully address their legal problems.

As part of the pro bono movement, lawyers recognize their duty to further societal interests and work selflessly in favour of the needy. It provides lawyers with an enriching platform for professional and personal development, by building credentials and networks in diverse fields of work. A flourishing pro bono practice also generates good publicity for the lawyer’s practice.

Global practices

In many countries, pro bono legal support has emerged as the dominant means of dispensing free representation to the poor. Countries like the United States and South Korea require lawyers to provide pro bono services for stipulated duration per year. While in South Korea the requirement is of at least 30 hours of pro bono work per year, in the United States, the American Bar Association recommends at least 50 hours of pro bono service per year. Singapore has individual lawyers and corporate organizations like Hewlett Packard, Intel etc. providing pro bono services, which adopt the programme by committing legal services of their in-house attorneys, paralegals and staff to dedicate a portion of their time to engage with the community by participating in various pro bono activities.

In India, "Pro Bono Legal Service" as a concept has not gained much momentum. Many lawyers, in their private sphere, provide poor and underprivileged clients with valuable legal advice and support without seeking professional fee. It thus remains an ad hoc, individualized practice lacking an institutional structure.
Through this programme, the Government of India has, for the first time, initiated a programme to encourage the culture of pro bono lawyering in the country " with the objective of institutionalizing the practice.