PRO-BONO : The Need of The Hour

Authored by Shouraseni Chakraborty, law student from NUSRL Ranchi

Fiat justitia ruat caelum: Let justice be done though the heavens fall.

Justice is something that should apply and be available to all. It is something that is absolutely non-deniable to any person, regardless of his/ her social, economical, cultural and psychological standing. In today’s world, everyone considers the legal profession to be a lucrative one. It surely is a way of fetching a humongous amount of money for oneself, just with the use of the grey- matter.

But, in the tug of war of justice, one forgets, the very reason why advocacy came into being as a profession. It was, to enlighten the world with the knowledge of law, to govern the nation, to protect the sovereignty and to help those, sitting on the highest pedestals of justice to give a chance of audi alteram partem to the alleged criminal and the alleged victim and bring about the verdict that not only applied to the parties but also, to the society at large. Advocacy was meant to allow justice to tread in the path of truth and bring both the faces of law in front of one-another. But, if advocacy comes with a huge price tag, will it be feasible for all? Will that mean that justice can be accessed by those who can afford it?

The need for Pro Bono work is more than ever! The under-represented, under-privileged section of the society is huge. This situation is often referred to as “justice-gap”. There have been a plethora of cases, where people have appeared for civil- proceedings without an attorney.[1] According to an American Bar Association study, at least 40% of low and moderate-income households experience a legal problem each year.[2] Yet studies show that the collective civil legal aid effort is meeting only about 20% of the legal needs of low-income people.[3] They need a fair chance at justice. This is the reason why pro-bono work should be encouraged. It not only provides for a public good but also a form of deterrence in the society. It provides a satisfaction among the weak and a fear among the stronger, dominating section indicating that they might not get away with every wrong they do to the poor.  

Pro Bono participation is widespread in the U.S.[4] According to the 2015 Trust Law survey, it was seen that there was a plummeted increase in the taking up of the pro-bono cases. This increase was almost equal to two weeks of total pro- bono work, one of the highest in the world. As a matter of fact, in some of the illustrious U.S. Law Schools, pro-bono legal work during the programme is a prerequisite for  graduation.[5] There could be multiple reasons behind this step. But the most probable one would be to instill within the future lawyers and jurists a sense of compassion and helping them realize the need to have a humanistic approach towards the clients, who are human-beings after all.

It all trails back to the end of the 18th century , just before the independence of the United States.  John Adams, who later became the country’s second President, took the pro bono defense of the British soldiers prosecuted for the Boston Massacre. Apart from that, he did a bunch of pro bonos for the upliftment of his own community. Even though he wasn’t appreciated during his time, his efforts at the voluntary bona fide provision of legal service to those in need was deep rooted in the history of the  country.

Since then, there have been numerous contributions of lawyers all over the world in the issues circumscribing society. Be it Amal Clooney’s representation of Syrian refugee Nadia Murad Bashee Taha, or Armenia in the Armenian genocide, from the fight of the U.S. attorneys to prevent racial discrimination, to litigating cases involving gay marriages, to overturning the US Military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that discriminated against homosexual service persons, a lot has been done.[6] Saying so, a lot more needs to be done.

 In Australia, the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target was established by the Australian Pro Bono Centre centre 11 years ago.[7] On its 10th anniversary, while deliberating over the fact whether pro- bono service is still relevant, John Coker, CEO of the centre said “The development of the target community shows that pro bono has become an integral part of professional life for thousands of Australian lawyers.  We are a better profession and a better society for it.”[8] This is a valid proof of the point that pro-bono doesn’t only affect the environment of those who require justice but also those who help in its administration.

There are a plethora of International Organisations which hold hands in carrying out numerous extraditions, and provide for restoration of human rights for millions of survivors of wars. Lawyers Without Borders happens to be an illustrious one! It consists of lawyers from all over the world whose goal is to develop and provide legal support to Rule of Law projects and initiatives in the human rights and global capacity building sectors; this is achieved using lawyers serving pro bono whenever possible.[9] This approach has proven to exponentially reduce costs to funders, in-country NGOs, and legal communities in developing regions around the world.[10] It aims at bringing every human being under the umbrella of justice by the provision of legal aid.

Pro-bono is the need of the hour. It is a holy grail for the financially infirm and a saving grace for justice. It upholds the very principle of justice and equality. As put forward by eminent Indian jurist, Justice Bhagwati, “From a positivistic point of view, equality is antithetic to arbitrariness. In fact equality and arbitrariness are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule of law in a republic while the other, to the whim and caprice of an absolute monarch.”[11] There shouldn’t be any loophole in the administration of justice. The rich shouldn’t be able to get away just because there is no recourse available to the victim. An egalitarian society is to be envisioned rather than a capitalistic one where there is nothing but exploitation of the proletariats by the bourgeoisie.


[1] Stetson Law Pro Bono, Stetson University, https://www.stetson.edu/law/pro-bono/.

[2] Pro Bono Net News, https://www.probono.net/.

[3] Id.

[4] Louis O’Neill, Pro Bono in the United States, Thomson Reuters Foundation News (May.22, 2015, 11:17 GMT), http://news.trust.org//item/20150522111741-j3r8i/

[5] Supra Note 1.

[6] Supra Note 4.

[7] Melissa Coade, Lawyers bump dedicated pro bono hours up 4.5%, Lawyers Weekly (Sep. 29, 2017))https://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/biglaw/21977-lawyers-bump-dedicated-pro-bono-hours-up-4-5

[8] Id.

[9] https://lawyerswithoutborders.org/lwob/about/.

[10] Id.

[11] E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu (1974) 4 SCC 3.

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