11.23 Pro Bono Services
Lawyers are encouraged to volunteer in pro bono settings. They must, however, be aware of the possibility of conflicts of interest arising from their volunteer work. Rule 3.4-15 of the Code of Conduct provides guidance on managing conflicts when delivering short-term legal services in a non-profit setting.
For reference, “short-term legal services” means advice or representation of a summary nature provided by a lawyer to a pro bono client under the auspices of a non-profit organization with the expectation by the lawyer and the client that the lawyer will not provide continuing representation.
A lawyer may provide pro bono short-term legal services through a non-profit legal services provider unless:
- The lawyer is aware that the client’s interests are directly adverse to the immediate interests of another current client of the lawyer, the lawyer’s’ firm or the non-profit legal services provider.
- The lawyer is aware that the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm may be disqualified from acting due to the possession of confidential information which could be used to the disadvantage of a current or former client of the lawyer, the law firm or the non-profit legal services provider.
If a lawyer provides short-term legal services, other lawyers from the lawyer’s firm may represent other clients whose interests are adverse to those of the client receiving short-term legal services, provided that adequate screening measures are taken to prevent disclosure or other involvement by the lawyer providing the short-term legal services.
These screening measures should include ensuring that the lawyer who provided the short-term legal services has no involvement in the representation of the firm client and has no discussions with the lawyers representing that client. Discussions regarding the firm client must be restricted to the limited group providing legal services to that client. See the commentary to Rule 3.4-15 and Rule 3.4-10 for suggestions on reasonable screening measures.
If a lawyer intends to act for a client for whom he or she provided short-term legal services on an on-going basis, the lawyer must comply with the regular conflict of interest rules.
When you provide short-term legal services, you should consider whether the client requires additional legal services beyond an initial consultation. The lawyer should ensure that the client is aware of the limited nature of the consultation and encourage and assist the client to obtain further legal services.