The task of making pro bono mandatory for lawyers is by no means a straightforward one. The issue remains hotly debated among lawyers, regardless of the jurisdiction – perhaps another issue is the globalization of legal services. The main contention has never been about the concept of pro bono itself as there is a general consensus that pro bono is part of a lawyer’s noble duty – rather, the contention has always been about the mandatory requirement. Indeed, R. Rotunda succinctly captured this when he stated that: 

Engaging in pro bono work can be very rewarding. The smile I see on a client’s face after I have helped them is priceless. That smile means so much less when the government compels the work”.


Many bar associations and practice rules have erred on the side of caution by simply urging lawyers to carry out pro bono legal services without necessarily imposing an obligation on them to do so. For example, while the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1983 recognizes that every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay, it simply stated that “every lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year”. Other bar associations have followed a similar pattern by making pro bono declarations. There are of course a few outliers – for instance, in South Africa, the Law Society requires all lawyers to perform pro bono services of not less than 24 hours per calendar year.   Other examples include Uganda; certain counties in America; and to an extent, the State of New York for lawyers seeking to qualify into the New York State Bar. Thus, this begs the question– what path should our rules follow? Should pro bono be voluntary (as in England and Wales) or mandatory (as in South Africa and Uganda) or should it be a hybrid structure (as in the US)? This is the question that this paper will seek to explore.


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This article was written by our Senior Counsel, Adekunbi Ogunde, for the International Bar Association. For more information about this paper, please contact Adekunbi directly via an email to  



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  • Name
    Mandatory Pro Bono
  • Date
    21 Aug 2019
  • Category
    Resources & Publications
  • Author
    Adekunbi Ogunde