The Instigator
Pro (for)
26 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
7 Points

Pro bono work should not be mandatory for attorneys.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/11/2011 Category: Society
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 3,925 times Debate No: 15881
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (1)
Votes (5)




A few counties throughout the United States have made pro bono work mandatory for attorneys in their jurisdiction. No other service industry has mandatory free service provisions and instead focuses on the voluntary nature of providing services free of charge. Compelling attorneys to provide free legal service undermines the nobility of voluntary services, implicitly makes attorneys responsible and creates a duty to ensure indigent clients have legal representation regardless of the hours associated with the case, and deters from a capitalistic society.

Con would have to show that mandatory pro bono provisions are constitutional regarding compelled work, in-line with other service providers, does impose a duty on attorneys to be responsible for the legal needs of the community as a whole, and does not deter from a capitalistic society.




I plan to show that not only is mandatory pro bono work for lawyers constitutional, but also that it helps lawyers grow in their profession, (much has apprenticeships in other professions have done so for all time) and helps the community at large. Equal representation does not truly exist in our justice system because of the great expense a competent defense requires. Many lawyers share the belief that pro bono work is a good thing, as evidenced by the "Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge" launched in 1993, now operating out of the Pro Bono Institute at Georgetown, that challenges law firms to commit 3-5% of the firms billable hours to pro bono causes.
The American bar proposed mandatory 40 hours a year pro bono work to service the poor and middle class who couldn't afford legal expense in 1977. It met so much opposition that membership to the ABA only included that "Lawyers should aspire to render ... pro bono publico services." Now places like Mississippi are once again are proposing mandatory amounts (20 hours).
Requiring pro bono work is similar in other professions to Doctors having to do internships, or on the job experience training cosmetologist do, cutting hair for free. Since lawyers would be required to do free work only as a tiny part of their lucrative profession, it is not only moral but also constitutional. Lubet and Stewart from The University of Pennsylvania Law Review note that "public-assets pro bono programs clearly have the constitutionally permissible effect of requiring "all of the lawyers who derive benefit from the unique status of being among those admitted to practice before the courts [to] be called upon to pay a fair share of the cost of the professional involvement in this effort.""
It is improper to consider those that cannot afford considerably expensive legal services as "indigent" since one does not have to be homeless to not be able to afford these services. It should be expected of law firms to give back to the community, and since legal services are considered monopolistic in this country (as only individuals licensed by the ABA may do so) it doe not detract from a capitalistic society, and little actual money would be lost from the firm or individual lawyers.
Debate Round No. 1


I would first like to thank my opponent for taking this debate. This topic is of growing importance and is well summarized by the brief history my opponent provided in round one. Before jumping in, I would like to note my opponent has incorrectly defined the term "indigent". Indigent refers to an impoverished, very needy individual. [1].

Pro Bono is a Good Thing:
My opponent is correct in acknowledging that there is inequity due to financial difficulties and that pro bono work is a "good thing". I completely support that assertion. However, that is not the topic of this debate.

Mandatory Services are Similar to Other Professions
My opponent asserts that other professions are required to provide services free of charge and uses the examples of doctor internships or job experience training for cosmetologist. This is a false analogy. First, internships for soon-to-be licensed doctors are just that, internships, because they are not yet doctors. Similarly, free hair-cuts are typically given prior to receiving a cosmetology license. This is not a debate regarding mandatory pro bono services by law students. It IS a debate about practicing attorneys; not students, interns or trainees. Second, my opponent's analogy of on-site job training is similarly flawed. Training for attorneys should take place in law school, not when client lives are in their hands. To reduce indigent clients to legal guinea pigs is a moral argument that I implore the judges of this debate to consider without my discussion. Allowing a hair dresser to cut my hair for the benefit of learning is hardly analogous to holding the legal future of a client. Hair grows back.Third, on-site training that takes place after someone has been hired is paid which distinguishes this type of work from an attorney having to mandatorily provide services free of charge post employment.

Lucrative career and minimal time requirements.
My opponent suggests that lawyers should be "required to do free work because it is only as a tiny part of their lucrative profession" and that it is moral and constitutional. I am not entirely sure why morality or constitutional issues arise in this statement because this is not a moral debate. Further, simply because something is moral does not make it constitutional. As such, I will only address the first part of this statement:

First, my opponent has not established a connection between being lucrative and the legal profession. Based on the 2010 Salary guide by Robert Half Legal, first year associates make between $49,750 - $73,000 per year. [1] Considering the average law student debt amounts to well over $180,000, it is unreasonable to assert that the profession is lucrative to the point where giving free services is financially reasonable to all attorneys. Note, that I stated ALL attorneys for a reason: a mandatory provision would not discriminate between new, old, poor or wealthy attorneys in the profession. They are all treated equally under the law of the ABA. Allowing pro bono work to remain voluntary simply gives attorneys discretion as to when he or she is able to commit the time and expense to adequately represent an indigent client

Further, making a claim that a lucrative profession should give back to the public is one thing, but mandated giving is another. I have yet to see CEOs, Engineers, investment bankers or gas station owners forced to give services for free because it serves the community. Just because I have more shoes than I need doesn't mean I should be forced to give it to the needy. Mandatory free services illegitimizes the nobility of providing pro bono work and will lead some attorneys to perform less than adequate services simply to finish the yearly requirement and move to more affluent clients. By allowing pro bono services to remain voluntary, attorneys can take care in choosing their clients and do so because they want to give back to the community, thereby placing more effort into the work they provide.

Making the assertion that serving indigent clients requires minimal time is similar to proclaiming that doing one free surgery every year takes minimal time: perhaps you've completed the surgery and the patient comes back for numerous follow ups, what if the surgery has complications and lasts 30 hours instead of the 2 the doctor expected? Having a doctor-patient relationship is similar to that of an attorney-client: you never know how much time they will require. Is my opponent suggesting that after completion of the mandatory 40 hours an attorney is simply able to charge the client to continue with his or her legal claims? And what if that client isn't able to pay after completion of the 40 hours, is the attorney able to drop the client? Prior to asserting a plan as to how to mandate pro bono provisions, my opponent should do considerable research into attorney misconduct proceedings.

Constitutionality of mandatory pro bono services.
My opponent cited a law review article stating that mandatory pro bono provisions are constitutional. He has failed, however, to site any reasoning beyond "public-asset pro bono programs clearly have the constitutionally permissible effect... [3] Simple citation without any semblance of legal rationale provides a weak point of argument. However, after reviewing the article, it appears that my opponent has failed to note that the authors assert constitutionality based on the "public assets" theory of attorneys in which lawyers are viewed as public servants of the court. This means that the constitutional rationale the authors were referring to apply if, and only if, attorneys ARE in fact servants of the court. Theories associated with the attorneys' role in society are fun, but are no way correlated to the constitutional analysis associated in this debate challenge.

Careful scrutiny of the article's footnotes suggests that my opponent is correct in asserting that the constitutional objections, such as involuntary servitude, have been rejected as it applies to mandatory pro bono provisions. However, he failed to note that the same article also stated that "First Amendment objection[s] might have some merit." The reasoning is as follows: Suppose an attorney has a deep set of convictions that providing free service to the poor are likely to discourage recipient self-help and create a disabling and life-diminishing kind of long-term dependency on government hand-outs. As such, the attorney decides to forgo providing pro-bono work. "The first amendment... does more than protect the right to speak freely. ... it also protects the "right to associate with others to promote certain causes ideas, and conduct espoused or engaged in by others."" Requiring an attorney to provide pro bono work when he or she is opposed to the the idea of giving handouts violates the First Amendment and adheres to my contention that compelling pro bono work is unconstitutional.

Monopolistic Argument
My opponent argues that because legal services are considered monopolistic in this country (as only individuals licensed by the ABA may do so) it does not detract from a capitalistic society to mandate pro bono services. First, my opponent should probably look up the term monopoly. However, if we are to take his definition as true, then food service industries, nail salons, and just about any other business is monopolistic because it requires a license. My opponent then states that it takes a minimal amount of money to render free legal services. A monetary argument is irrelevant to this debate but based on the above doctor-patient example, it is difficult for the opponent to assert a value on the services rendered. Although I am in complete agreement that attorneys should provide pro bono assistance to the needy, mandatory provisions detract from the nobility of giving back to society.

Citations available in the comments.



First I was hoping that my opponent could, in the next round, list all these counties and jurisdictions where mandatory Pro Bono work is currently in place as I'm afraid my list may be incomplete. Thank you.

My opponent is correct in her definition of the word "indigent". I was not claiming to define the word, merely to point out that lower to middle class people can often not afford expensive legal representation even if they are not considered impoverished or very needy. It is not only the indigent that would benefit from mandatory Pro Bono work, but also members of the community like myself, who are not indigent, but living paycheck to paycheck. Also medical interns ARE Doctors. They graduated from medical school, with a Doctorate of Medicine. They perform medicine on real patients, not guinea pigs. Their requirement to do an internship and residency is part of their job, just as proposed minimums of service for lawyers would be part of their jobs.

Pro Bono IS a Good Thing- I do not think it is appropriate for my opponent to avoid this issue. The topic of the debate is simply Pro Bono work should not be mandatory for attorneys, and should encompass all aspects of the issue. I also believe my opponent is shifting ground, because in her original challenge she stated that mandatory Pro Bono work "Does impose a duty on attorneys to be responsible for the legal needs of the community as a whole" and it is this community that I am arguing should be served. The rapidly growing need for access to legal services in America is the very reason the proposition for mandatory Pro Bono services are constantly being considered and revised.

Pro Bono work is Constitutional
My opponent cites the first amendment as grounds for Pro Bono work being unconstitutional. The first Amendment ensures that the Government will not interfere with a citizens five basic freedoms. It does not however; specify rules of entry into certain organizations or professions. The privilege to practice law would be contingent upon certain conditions being met, such as 20-40 hours of service minimum. If the condition did occur that a particularly morally bankrupt lawyer had a deep seeded set of beliefs that free services to the poor are bad, he would be free to choose another carer, this isn't conscription or indentured servitude. We cannot argue moral convictions against the requirements of our CHOSEN job. The ABA would not be prejudiced against that lawyer, they would be requiring him to do his JOB. If that same lawyer had a deep seeded prejudice against clients of color, he would not be afforded that exception to represent only whom he pleased.

Mandatory Pro Bono undermines the spirit of charity work/ Lawyers would not perform as well with these clients-

My opponent states that this is not a moral debate, but says the issue of the nobility of voluntary service is in question, and that is a moral issue.
All lawyers abide by the Model rules for professional conduct which includes seeing a case through to the end, and giving the client a competent defense. To suggest that lawyers are ego-centric and would sandbag on the Pro Bono cases is an attack on their character, not the argument. Many lawyers do give back already and would not be affected by mandatory hours. In an article "Tending the Generous Heart: Mandatory Pro Bono and Moral Development" from the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, the author states that, "The opportunity to serve the poor might also increase a lawyers empathy and give them a wider perspective. improve the sensitivity and moral quality of professional relationships overall, since significant cultural and situational differences are common in legal work"
Debate Round No. 2


Mandatory Pro Bono Jurisdictions
The only jurisdiction that I am aware of that imposes mandatory pro bono provisions is Orange County. [1] My opponent is welcome to do additional research for a more complete list.

Doctor Internship/Residency Requirements are Analogous to Mandatory Pro Bono
Having no information on the requirements of becoming a doctor, I will concede to my opponent that an internship and residency are mandatory provisions for new doctors. While this may be the case, it is easy to distinguish these types of mandatory requirements from those proposed by mandatory pro bono services. First, internships and residency requirements apply to NEW doctors, that is, a doctor who recently graduated and needs to practice his or her skills while being supervised by a more experienced member of the field. Mandatory pro bono provisions, however, apply to new and old attorneys, thereby imposing a duty on the profession in manner that far exceeds that placed on doctors. While a doctor is able to finish their internship/residency and be done with the requirement, the duty imposed by yearly pro bono requirements would follow an attorney throughout his or her career. Not only would attorneys have to do it in the beginning of their practice, but every subsequent year thereafter. Second, internships are PAID. Pro bono work is, by definition, free of charge. Third, in spite of my opponents plea that patients are not guinea pigs, new doctors have to train on someone; just as new lawyers have to train on someone. My reference to guinea pigs was meant in jest to imply that new patients and new legal clients are being experimented on just as guinea pigs in a drug laboratory. Fortunately, the medical profession requires interns and residents to be supervised so that medical guinea pigs are not harmed. In solo practice or small law firms, there is no regulating factor to make sure legal guinea pigs are sufficiency taken care of while new attorneys train. Unless the ABA reforms a considerable amount of its processes to match that of the medical profession, mandatory pro bono provisions can, in no way,be comparable to that of the medical profession.

Pro bono is a good thing:
My opponent claims that discussing the benefits of mandatory pro bono provisions merits continued debate because we "should encompass all aspects of the issue" and my attempt to move on was "shifting ground". I conceded that Pro Bono is a good thing in round two and do not entirely understand why it warrants further discussion. I will assume that my opponent is trying to say "Pro bono work should be mandatory because it is a good thing and serves the community". My response to that statement is simple: there are many things every profession can do to benefit the community, however, few are mandated to do so. Unless there is a provision upon ALL service based industries to offer services free of charge because it serves the community, it is discriminatory to apply these provisions on select fields. Just like my opponent, I too live pay check to pay check. However, I do not receive free manicures because I am unable to afford them.

Mandatory Pro Bono Work is Constitutional.
My opponent claims that mandatory pro bono provisions are constitutional because they do not inhibit the five basic freedoms : speech, press, religion, petition and assembly. Unfortunately, my opponent failed to note the intricacies in each of these freedoms and thereby did not address the freedom of speech arguments stated in Round 2. My opponent argues that mandatory pro bono provisions would not violate freedom of speech because they would simply serve as entry requirements to the profession and attorneys can choose whether or not to go into this field based on those provisions. However, attorneys already inducted into the ABA would not be given a choice because mandatory pro bono provisions would apply to ALL attorneys, new or old. Therefore, mandating pro bono may hinder an attorneys freedom of expression because he or she is mandated to engage in conduct that he or she feels morally reprehensible. While county wide mandatory pro bono provisions allow attorneys the freedom to change jurisdictions if he or she has morality inhibitions to serving the needy, imposing an ABA specific rule would impose a duty upon the attorney to engage in an activity which he or she may finds morally repugnant and and therefore be classified as compelled speech. A brief excerpt from a previously cited source states:

“Whether or not our principled lawyer is right or wrong is irrelevant for First Amendment purposes. What matters is that, through a strict mandatory service policy, he or she is being forced by government not just to indirectly support but to actively foster or defend policies and programs that might fairly be regarded as political or ideological in character. … The First Amendment, of course, does a great deal more than protect the right to speak freely,… it also protects "the right to associate with others to promote certain causes and ideas, and to be free from coerced association with causes, ideas, and conduct espoused or engaged in by others." [2]

Nobility of voluntary services:
I concede that arguing the nobility of pro bono work undermines my stance that this debate is not about morality. Therefore, I will gladly refrain from making future arguments alluding to moral behavior.

Prior to citing the professional rules of conduct, my opponent should take the opportunity to read these rules thoroughly. They have nothing to do with morality. Rather, the rules prescribe a minimum level of service & diligence and adhering to them provides just that, minimum levels of service. My position that attorneys would adhere to the minimum levels of service if they are mandated to perform services free of charge is not an attack on the character of an attorney, it is a simple way to imply that only those who WANT to do pro bono work will do so with the same levels of diligence as working for a paying clients. My opponent is correct that many attorneys already give back and would not be affected by mandatory requirements. However, in my attempt to limit the morality argument for the purposes of this debate I will not comment on the article cited by my opponent. Instead, I bring your attention to my blurb above in "pro bono is a good thing". My position is simple: attorneys should be given a choice in the matter of pro bono work rather than having a provision of this caliber imposed upon them.

Thank you to my opponent for taking this debate and thank you to the judges who read it.

[2] 19 Hofstra L. Rev. 885, 950 (1991).



While my opponent continues to rest on the untestable, theoretical notion that forced pro bono work would dampen enthusiasm and cause attorneys to perform minimal for these clients, I have one more argument, and that is that not only is pro bono work a good thing it is also necessary in many places. Pubic defenders are paid for by the public. Not only would law firms requiring their attorneys to do pro bono work lessen the strain on these overworked and lowly paid officers of the court (Who are often so busy that they MUST perform minimal services), but it would also lessen the financial burden on the entire community, on the tax payers. What is constitutional is that accused persons have competent legal counsel. This may not be possible everywhere until we do mandate that attorneys give back to the community and court they are sworn to serve. Just saying that lawyers should give back is not enough. There are things about most peoples jobs they don't like to do, but it is important to their employers that they do, and it is important to the entire community, the taxpayers and the government that lawyers do pro bono work.

I thank my opponent for this challenge, Nick Temple for the assignment, and thank the voters for reading.
Debate Round No. 3
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by duckiejen23 7 years ago
I ran out of space :) Here are my citations.

[3] 145 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1245
[4] 19 Hofstra L. Rev. 885, 912 (1991)
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Reasons for voting decision: Negating BobGneu's votebomb. He knows him in real life and is a biased voter
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Reasons for voting decision: Con did not refute a claim, cite a source properly. His entire argument came down to an opinion. =\ boo.
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Reasons for voting decision: If it's mandatory, it's only semi-pro bono
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Reasons for voting decision: Con needed to address why lawyers are singled out.