A Modest Proposal: The Discount and Refund-or-Donate Policy

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Explore:  Pro Bono

Originally published in Taxation of Exempts - March/April 2013.

Despite all of the jokes to the contrary, lawyers as a professional group are remarkably charitable. Unlike plumbers, doctors, electricians, pharmacists, and the myriad of other regulated professionals who enjoy a government-granted monopolistic right to provide services to the public, many lawyers—especially those at large firms—regard themselves as having an obligation to provide services at no cost to worthy individuals and causes. This is known as “pro bono” work, a shortening of the Latin phrase pro bono publico—“for the public good.”

The primary sources of this obligation are aspirational recommendations by bar associations and other professional organizations. In addition, and particularly in recent years, law schools often teach students that lawyers have a special responsibility that requires them to provide free legal services under certain circumstances.

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