​FREE LEGAL SERVICE; PRO BONO OR CHARITY?

Ranking as one of the most common legal terms among non-lawyers is the word pro bono. You may be surprised that even an individual who might never have seen inside the four walls of a school but has dealings with a lawyer understands this phrase. It is not hard to see why. Pro bono service means legal service offered without a fee. So, if lay men know the meaning, don’t be amazed. Love for free things is a denominator common to all of us. Education and language are no barrier to understanding “free of charge“.

However, this same word has both been misused and misunderstood even among lawyers. So, as one in the know, I do feel an obligation to conduct a pro bono legal education and public enlightenment.

Firstly, let me disabuse your knowledge and understanding. Pro bono does not mean “completely free of charge”. Don’t be shocked! It only means as a lawyer, I won’t charge you for the fee I’m entitled to for the legal service I will render or have rendered. It only means I won’t charge you for the fee that is supposed to go into my wallet for the training and experience I have garnered both from the rigorous years of legal education and from practice. This pro bono does not cover other expenses in the process of rendering my service.

For instance, pro bono does not cover filing fees, expenses for service of Court processes, incidental fees that arise in the course of conducting your matter and other similar expenses. In actual fact, some lawyers still collect appearance fee for pro bono cases. My principal collected one recently and the best part was when he turned the money above his shoulders to the back for the junior lawyers to share. Such moments are ecstatic.

This is the logic for pro bono. There are different types of fees a lawyer charges. Professional fee, appearance fee, consultancy fee and others. When litigation is concerned, professional fee is the fee for what the lawyer does in his law office in preparation for your case and what he does inside the courtroom in order to win it. And this is what he was trained for. So, if a case is pro bono, it is this professional fee that is affected and not any other. 

However, as some of us believe, due to exposure, the challenges bedevilling the legal profession are not due to the nature of the profession but individual differences, unlike what we have been made to believe. For instance, regarding the lingering issue of poor welfare package for lawyers, especially young lawyers, we have been made to believe this is the way and modus operandi of the profession. However, it is noteworthy that some lawyers still see it as a duty that they have good welfare packages for their lawyer-employees not because they are excessively rich but because they know that is the right and proper thing to do.

In the same vein, some lawyers may still conduct your case pro bono without collecting a dime in any form. Then, this is no longer pro bono but charity (lol). All the pillars of life encourage this. The solemn bank accounts of some lawyers don’t encourage it.

So, when next a lawyer tells you he is not going to charge you for his services, verify by asking, “Barista, eskis sah, shey na pro bono or charity?” So you won’t cry foul later: “lawyers are liars.” Well, that’s already a mantra for those who cannot sit with us #picksrace

 S.O.J. Fadipe,

A young lawyer currently practicing in Benin City, Edo State.
You can connect with him via Twitter and Instagram: @inspiredsunfad and fadipesunday@yahoo.com

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