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Rules of Professional Conduct

Rule 6.1: Pro Bono Public Service

A lawyer should participate in serving those persons, or groups of persons, who are unable to pay all or a portion of reasonable attorney’s fees or who are otherwise unable to obtain counsel. A lawyer may discharge this responsibility by providing professional services at no fee, or at a substantially reduced fee, to persons and groups who are unable to afford or obtain counsel, or by active participation in the work of organizations that provide legal services to them. When personal representation is not feasible, a lawyer may discharge this responsibility by providing financial support for organizations that provide legal representation to those unable to obtain counsel.


   [1] This rule reflects the long-standing ethical principle underlying Canon 2 of the previous Code of Professional Responsibility that “A lawyer should assist the legal profession in fulfilling its duty to make legal counsel available.” The rule incorporates the legal profession’s historical commitment to the principle that all persons in our society should be able to obtain necessary legal services. The rule also recognizes that the rights and responsibilities of individuals and groups in the United States are increasingly defined in legal terms and that, as a consequence, legal assistance in coping with the web of statutes, rules, and regulations is imperative for persons of modest and limited means, as well as for the relatively well-to-do. The rule also recognizes that a lawyer’s pro bono services are sometimes needed to assert or defend public rights belonging to the public generally where no individual or group can afford to pay for the services.
   [2] This rule carries forward the ethical precepts set forth in the Code. Specifically, the rule recognizes that the basic responsibility for providing legal services for those unable to pay ultimately rests upon the individual lawyer, and that every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional work load, should find time to participate in or otherwise support the provision of legal services to the disadvantaged.
   [3] The rule also acknowledges that while the provision of free legal services to those unable to pay reasonable fees continues to be an obligation of each lawyer as well as the profession generally, the efforts of individual lawyers are often not enough to meet the need. Thus, it has been necessary for the profession and government to institute additional programs to provide legal services. Accordingly, legal aid offices, lawyer referral services, and other related programs have been developed, and others will be developed by the profession and government. Every lawyer should support all proper efforts to meet this need for legal services. A lawyer also should not refuse a request from a court or bar association to undertake representation of a person unable to obtain counsel except for compelling reasons such as those listed in Rule 6.2.
   [4] This rule expresses the profession’s traditional commitment to make legal counsel available, but it is not intended that the rule be enforced through disciplinary process. Neither is it intended to place any obligation on a government lawyer that is inconsistent with laws such as 18 U.S.C. §' 203 and 205 limiting the scope of permissible employment or representational activities.
   [5] In determining their responsibilities under this rule, lawyers admitted to practice in the District of Columbia should be guided by the Resolutions on Pro Bono Services passed by the Judicial Conferences of the District of Columbia and the D.C. Circuit as amended from time to time. Those resolutions as adopted in 2009 and 2010, respectively, call on members of the D.C. Bar, at a minimum, each year to (1) accept one court appointment, (2) provide 50 hours of pro bono legal service, or (3) when personal representation is not feasible, contribute the lesser of $750 or 1 percent of earned income to a legal assistance organization that services the community’s economically disadvantaged, including pro bono referral and appointment offices sponsored by the Bar and the courts.
   [6] Law firms and other organizations employing lawyers should act reasonably to enable and encourage all lawyers in the organization to provide the pro bono legal services called for by this rule.