Hi, my name is John T. Anderson. Welcome to my blog! I have been practicing law in California since 1975 and have been the Chairman of the Estate Planning and Probate Section of the Long Beach Bar Association since the mid-1980s. I'm also certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization as a specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law. On this blog, you will find articles written by me regarding estate planning and probate in California. Many of these articles address recent changes in the law and summaries of the Long Beach Bar Association’s Estate Planning and Probate Section meetings. I hope that you find these articles helpful. If you would like more information about me or my law office, please visit my website at or contact my office at 562.424.8619.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Ethics of Pro Bono

The Ethics of Pro Bono
Toby Rothschild, General Counsel
Legal Aid Foundation, LA

Direct delivery of legal services without expectation of compensation.  Indigent/non-profit.  Increase of services to indigent.  Serving the poor or agencies which serve the poor.

B&P Code §6068: Duties of Attorney.

Some duties, we know, such as (e) Maintain confidence; but do you know (h) Never to reject, for any consideration personal to himself or herself, the cause of the defenseless or the oppressed.

The Board of Governors for the State Bar of California 06/22/2002 urged at least 50 hours per year of Pro Bono by each lawyer with no expectation of compensation.

16.1% of the state is below the poverty level (less than $22,113 per year for a family of 4).  30% or more of children are below the poverty level.

Rule 6.1 (07/24/2010 and 09/22/2010) is still awaiting Supreme Court approval.

Ways to serve:

Through organized Pro Bono programs:
1.    They screen clients
2.    They can provide information/support.
3.    They may have malpractice insurance.
4.    Limited scope/unbundling.  You may be able to take a portion of the case without handling the entire case. provides a broad outline of programs.

Rules of Professional Conduce are the same.  You cannot put paying clients first.  Make sure to avoid conflicts of interest.

Rule 1-650 carves-out an exception regarding a conflict of interest when assisting clinics.  The conflict doesn’t exist unless you are personally aware of it when advising in a short-term matter while serving a qualified entity.

A normal Attorney/Client Agreement may not be enough.  Identify the Scope of Representation.  Cover the outcome (what is possible) and duration.  No limit on liability is permitted.  Clearly spell-out any limitation on the scope or duration of the representation.  There are forms in Court Rules and you must advise the court and opposing counsel of any limit on representation.

Nichols v. Keller.  Keller advised Nichols on a Workers Compensation case.  It later came-up that there may have been a third party liability case.  As a lawyer, this case said, you have better knowledge and should have known and advised the client even if you wouldn’t handle that aspect of the case and, in fact had a contract limiting your services to Worker’s Comp.  You can expressly exclude handling any other issues, but you must advise the client of the other issues or claims.  Nichols sued and recovered against Keller.

You must be able to communicate.  A friend, family member, or child is often not acceptable.  A person competent in the language the client speaks from your office is better and possibly required.

Get alternate contacts so you can reach the client.

Withdrawing from a Pro Bono case is the same as in any case.  Your name is on pleadings or papers.  If you received the case from an organization, contact them; but that does not terminate the case for you.  The rules are the same as any other case.

                John T. Anderson, Section Chair
                Certified Specialist in Probate, Trust and  Estate Planning
                By the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization

Copyright © 2011 by John T. Anderson
All articles by John T. Anderson may be copied for personal use, only. All articles or outlines from others may be used only with their personal authorization. Any approval is for personal use, only, and for non-commercial purposes.
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