Should there be a pro bono requirement for bar admission?

Should there be a pro bono requirement for bar admission?

Coffee Talk is a regular feature of the Contra Costa Lawyer magazine. We ask a short question related to an upcoming theme and responses are then published in the Contra Costa Lawyer magazine.


There should not be a requirement of Pro Bono work. The concept of forced “charitable” work is contrary to the concept of volunteering to do a charitable act.

Additionally, who would get to decide what is qualifying pro bono work? The bar? The government? This decision would be driven by politics, which would just create more problems.

I am not aware of any other profession where volunteer work is required in order to be licensed, why should lawyers be treated differently? This has been an issue pushed by the State Bar where it sees tens of thousands of lawyers it can force to do work for causes it deems worthy.  Would lawyers licenses to practice law be held up until they performed pro bono work for the “right” types of clients? Or in other words would lawyers be held to a form of servitude to the State in exchange for the right to practice law?

Should doctors be required to provide free medical services? Should grocery stores be required to provide free food? Should auto dealers be required to provide free cars or Uber drivers free rides? Should landlords be required to provide reduced rent to “deserving” tenants? Unless you answer all of these questions in the affirmative and are proposing to change our entire economic system in the process, the clear answer is lawyers should not be treated any differently, and required to work pro bono.

Many of us donate significant hours of our time to clients and causes we deem worthy. We do this because we want to, not because we are forced to, and isn’t that the essence of being a volunteer?

Thank you,
Daniel S. Harkins
Attorney at Law


It depends on if the new lawyer is going to receive training in the volunteer pro bono experience. Adults with financial stress who become attorneys may not be able to afford a lot of pro bono donation time. If the purpose is to train an attorney to have sufficient skills and the pro bono opportunity gives them some experience, then yes a requirement would be helpful. Usually people volunteer anyway if they can.

Karen Crosby

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