Title III, Div. 2, Ch. 6 of the California Rules of the State Bar, allows active members of the California Bar who would otherwise be inactive to provide free legal services exclusively for a California Qualified Legal Services Provider or the no-fee panel or pro bono clinic of a certified lawyer referral service (active California Bar member in geographic location). The Pro Bono Practice Program is designed to allow attorneys taking a temporary or permanent break from the active practice of law to provide legal services to low-income Californians.
- Be active members of the California Bar who would otherwise be inactive but who provides free legal services exclusively for the Pro Bono Practice Attorney Program and are engaged in no other activities that require active status.
- Be a member in good standing with no disciplinary charges pending at the time of the application.
- Have been admitted to the practice of law in a United States jurisdiction for at least five years preceding the application.
- Have practiced law or served as a judge in California for at least three of the past five years preceding the application.
- Have no record of public discipline during the five years.
The Secretary may waive a requirement. This includes the extent to which a member otherwise meets a requirement, the need for legal services in a particular place, or a member’s experience in providing pro bono legal services or for other good cause.
Qualified Legal Services Provider
A “qualified legal services provider”receives, or is eligible to receive, funds from the Legal Services Trust Fund Program as either:
- A “qualified legal services project,”which provides legal services in civil matters without charge to indigent person; or
- A “qualified legal services support center,” which provides legal training, legal technical assistance, or advocacy support without charge to qualified legal services projects.
For the purposes of the Pro Bono Practice Program, a “certified lawyer referral service” is the no-fee panel or pro bono panel or clinic of a lawyer referral service certified by the California Bar and meeting the statutory criteria.
A qualified legal services provider must:
- Notify the California Bar that a member has applied to serve as a pro bono practicing attorney for the provider or service.
- Indicate whether the application will be accepted if the California Bar certified the member as a pro bono attorney.
- Provide no compensation to the pro bono practice attorney, except for reimbursement of expenses.
- Notify the California Bar within 30 days of the pro bono practice attorney withdrawing from the program.
- Provide adequate support and supervision to each pro bono practice attorney.
- Agree with the pro bono practice attorney to provide a minimum number of hours of pro bono legal services annually (100 hours being the recommended minimum).
- Submit an application annually for each pro bono practice attorney.
Practice and Restrictions
The pro bono practice attorney must:
- Provide legal services exclusively as a Pro Bono Practice Attorney and not otherwise engage in activities that require active status.
- Provide legal services for a qualified legal services provider or a certified lawyer referral service.
- Accept no compensation for legal services, except for reimbursement of expenses incurred.
- Comply with the MCLE requirements and all other rules and laws applicable to California Bar members.
- Notify the California Bar within 30 days of withdrawing from the program.
- Agree with the qualified legal services provider or certified lawyer referral service to provide a minimum number of hours of pro bono legal services annually (100 hours being the recommended minimum).
- Disclose any disciplinary charges to the qualified legal services provider or certified lawyer referral service as part of the attorney’s continuing duty.
Application and Certification
Attorneys are required to file an application for the Pro Bono Services Program and annually submit a new application after approval.
The California Bar waives annual active membership fees for members who act exclusively as pro bono practice attorneys for an entire calendar year. Pro bono attorneys must pay the annual membership fees if they are practicing for less than one year.