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Pro Bono Lawyers: Where to Find One and How to Work With Them

What is a Pro Bono or Volunteer Lawyer?

A Pro Bono or Volunteer lawyer is a lawyer that agrees to take all or a portion of your case at no cost to you and collect no fee from any other source. 

This is different from lawyers who work for a traditional legal aid organization. Lawyers, at a traditional legal aid organization, are funded to handle cases at no cost to the client but are paid for their work by funders, such as the Texas Access to Justice Foundation or Legal Services Corporation. 

Click here to go to our Legal Help Finder to find legal aid organizations that may be able to help you. 

In contrast, a Pro Bono or Volunteer lawyer handles all or part of your case at no cost to you but is also not being paid for any of her time. This difference is important to understand, because for every hour a lawyer volunteers on your case they are not handling other cases that would pay them.

Where can I find a Pro Bono or Volunteer Lawyer?

The best way to find a Pro Bono or Volunteer is to contact a program that specializes in providing Pro Bono Lawyers to those in your situation. For example, if you were in Houston, you could contact the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program. 

Various non-profit organizations, including local bar associations, work to encourage lawyers to volunteer to help Texans in need. 

To apply for help, first, you will likely need to attend a free legal clinic.

Please note, there is no guarantee that by going to a legal clinic you will get a Pro Bono Lawyer. It is simply the way some organizations handle applications for help.

Some Pro Bono programs are only for people with low-incomes, some are only for veterans, and other programs may have additional and/or different guidelines.

You will likely be required to answer various financial and other questions to ensure you qualify for a Pro Bono or Volunteer Lawyer.

 

What is a Legal Clinic?

Various bar associations and legal aid organizations offer legal clinics as a way to provide free legal advice and handle intake for any pro bono or volunteer lawyer programs they operate.

If you qualify, you can talk with a lawyer at a legal clinic for free.

Some legal clinics are only for people with low-incomes. Other legal clinics are only for veterans. Most legal clinics only give advice about certain legal issues.

When going to a legal clinic, check with each organization ahead of time to make sure:

●     you qualify, and

●     they give advice about your particular legal issue, and

●     the legal clinic is still scheduled as advertised (this is especially important around holidays).

Please click here for a calendar of free legal clinics in Texas.

What Organization Should I Contact?

The organization you should contact depends on where you live and sometimes the nature of your issues.

Below is a list of organizations you can contact to try to get a pro bono or volunteer lawyer in different areas of Texas. This list is not exhaustive. Please see the Legal Help Finder, to see if there are other organizations in your area that can help you find a pro bono or volunteer lawyer. 

What Pro Bono Organizations Expect From You

Each Pro Bono Organization is there to help you. To serve you as best as they can, they need your cooperation. Below is a list of what each organization may expect from you. If you do not meet these expectations, you might not be able to get assistance. 

Behavior

You are expected to conduct yourself appropriately when interacting with staff and volunteers.

This means being considerate and following instructions.

  • Examples of inappropriate conduct include:
    • Profanity
    • Speaking in a raised voice
    • Intoxication
    • Threats
    • Harassment and
    • Any actual or threatned physical or verbal abuse.

Scheduling and Preparation

You are expcted to respect the time of your volunteer lawyer, who is donating valuable time to help you while also handling many other matters.

If you are provided with a volunteer lawyer for your case, one way to do this is to write down questions you have about your case and schedule a call or meeting with your volunteer lawyer to discuss them, rather than calling your volunteer lawyer every time you think of a question. 

Follow Through

You are expected to do what you say you are going to do.

For example, keep scheduled appointments and phone conferences. If you will be unable to make an appointment or phone call, notify the people involved as soon as you know you will not make it. If the organization cannot rely on you, they will not be able to help you. Also, if they ask you to provide documents or information, the organization will expect you to follow through and let them know as soon as possible if you are unable to do so. 

Notify

You should notify the volunteer organization immediately if:

  • You find legal services elsewhere (through another provider or attorney).
  • Your contact information changes.
  • You get a job, change jobs, or lose your job.
  • Your living arrangements or other circumstances change in anyway that may affect your household income or legal issue.
    • This includes pregnancy. 

Communication

You are expected to communicate your needs to organization staff and volunteers as quickly as possible, understanding that the organization may not  be able to satisfy last minute requests. 

Cost Disclaimer

While various organizations can connect you with a lawyer volunteering their time, these organizations do not control costs set by others, including court filing fees, constable costs, witness fees, copy costs, or the fees of professionals appointed by a court to provide services in your case. If these or other similar costs arise in your case and cannot be waived, you will most likely be responsible for paying them, depending on the organization.