Frequently Asked Questions
I Need Legal Help. Can I Find a Free Lawyer on MassProBono?
The short answer is NO. MassProBono connects volunteers with organizations and programs that serve low-income clients. It does not connect clients directly with pro bono lawyers.
Here are some ways to get legal help and information:
The Legal Resource Finder. The Legal Resource Finder will help you find out whether there is a legal aid program that might be able to help you with your legal problem. It will also give you links to information that will help you to learn more about your legal issue. The LRF only includes information about civil - not criminal - issues.
If you want to hire a lawyer for a criminal, personal injury, worker's compensation, or other type of case, see this list of lawyer referral services.
The Committee for Public Counsel Services provides public defenders for low-income people in criminal cases and in certain other types of cases. Click here for more information.
Other Kinds of Help:
- Call SafeLink at 1-877-785-2020. Callers to SafeLink receive confidential "help at the end of the line" 24 hours a day, every day of the year. SafeLink's specially trained advocates provide support in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and have access to TTY (877-521-2601) and translation services through on-call specialists at the ATT Language Line. That resource can provide simultaneous interpretation in over 140 languages, giving SafeLink the capacity to respond to most callers in their native language. See the
- Elder Abuse Hotline, 1-800-922-2275 (V/TDD). Click here for more information.
Massachusetts Senior Legal Help Line, 1-866-778-0939. The Helpline provides FREE legal information, advice and referral services for Massachusetts senior citizens (60 years or older) in most areas of civil law. Click here for more information.
- 800AgeInfo, 1-800-243-4636. Find out about services for Massachusetts elders and their families. Click here for more information.
Child Abuse or Neglect
- Child-At-Risk Hotline, 1-800-792-5200. Click here for more information.
Abuse or Neglect of Persons with Disabilities
- Disabled Persons Protection Commission, 800-426-9009 or 888-822-0350 TTY. Click here for more information.
- Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), call 2-1-1 for non-emergency help. Click here for more information.
Why Should I Join MassProBono?
We encourage lawyers, law students, paralegals, and other professionals interested in volunteering for the benefit of low-income people to join MassProBono.
Joining MassProBono gives you access to all the resources and tools the website has to offer.
Most of the cases for referral, all of the listservs, and some of the library content are only available to people who have registered for the website and are logged in.
As a member, you have the option to receive monthly emails with all of the upcoming trainings posted in the Calendar.
As a member, you may subscribe to case alerts that will notify you any time a new case is posted that meets your selection criteria.
By joining MassProBono, you are becoming part of a community of attorneys, law students and others across Massachusetts who are taking action to expand access to justice for all.
Ready? Click here to join.
How Can I Use this Website to Find Pro Bono Opportunities?
There are different ways to find pro bono opportunities on this website.
We suggest starting with the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide. That will give you the most comprehensive view of the pro bono organizations and opportunities in the state.
Using the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide:
- To see the entire list of pro bono programs and organizations, click the Search button without choosing any counties, areas of law, etc. That will pull up the whole list. Click on the title of any program to get more information, including who to contact about volunteering.
- If you want to do a more targeted search, to only see programs near you, for example, you could select the County that you live in or enter your city or town in the Text Search box and then click Search. You could narrow your search even further by using additional filters such as area of law.
- If an organization has posted specific cases or projects they need volunteers for, you will see a green (for cases) and/or blue (for projects) bubble next to the name of the program. You can find the specific cases or projects by clicking on the bubble and then on the specific case or project you are interested in.
- Organizations may have pro bono cases or projects that aren't listed here. We suggest that you email the volunteer contact listed to inquire about specific pro bono opportunities.
Finding a Case
- If you know you want to take a pro bono case, you may go directly to the listing of cases. You will need to be logged in to the website in order to see the cases.
- Cases are listed by location by default, but you can view them by topic by clicking on the Topic link above the list of cases. Click on the case description to see more information about the case.
- To indicate your interest in a case, click on the Review this Case link toward the bottom of the case listing. You may only have 2 cases under review at a time. You will be contacted by someone from the program that posted the case. Whether you ultimately take that case is a decision between you and the program that posted the case. MassProBono is not involved in that decision. If you have not accepted the case within 10 days, it will go back on the list of available cases.
- To see the cases you have under review or accepted, log in and click on My Profile in the upper left corner, just under your name. Then click on Manage My Cases.
- Organizations may have pro bono cases that aren't listed here. We suggest that you use the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide to contact organizations directly to inquire if you don't see their cases posted.
Finding a Project
- If you are looking for a shorter term pro bono opportunity, you may go directly to the listing of projects.
- To see all the projects listed, click the Search button without choosing any counties, areas of law, etc. Click on the title of any project to get more information, including who to contact about volunteering and in some cases a link to a sign-up.
- If you want to do a more targeted search, to only see Lawyer for the Day projects, for example, you could select Lawyer for the Day in the Type of Project field. You could narrow your search even further by using additional filters such as Location.
- Organizations may have pro bono projects that aren't listed here. We suggest that you use the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide to contact organizations directly to inquire about projects they may have.
What's a Case Alert?
A case alert is a notification that a case matching criteria you have selected has been posted on MassProBono.
To set up a case alert, log in and click on My Profile in the upper left corner under your name. Then click on Edit My Case Alerts.
You may select Case Topics and Counties that match your interests and location. To select more than one topic or county, hold down the Control key (Command on a Mac). Be sure Subscribe is selected. Click the Change button to save your selections.
Any time a new case is posted that matches your selections, you will receive an email.
Will My Pro Bono Work Be Covered by Malpractice Insurance
Like many things in law, it depends. Many pro bono legal programs provide malpractice insurance for their volunteers. But there are exceptions. The best practice is to check with the program with which you would like to volunteer. Many programs include information about malpractice coverage in their listings on this website. If you have any doubt, get in touch with the volunteer contact person listed for that program in the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide.
What's the Connection Between MassProBono, MassLegalServices, and MassLegalHelp?
Back in the 1990s, when the Massachusetts Legal Aid Websites Project was developing a statewide plan for using technology to enhance the delivery of legal assistance to the poor, they envisioned three websites: MassLegalServices.org to support legal aid advocates; MassLegalHelp to provide understandable legal information to the public; and MassProBono to support private attorneys, law students and others in their pro bono efforts.
MassLegalServices was created over a decade ago and now has more than 16,000 resources in its vast library. MassLegalHelp came next and now hosts an extensive collection of legal self-help and informational materials written in plain English and translated into multiple other languages.
With the launch of MassProBono, the original vision has been fulfilled. Of course, the public resources on these three websites are available to you whether you are a legal aid attorney, an law firm or in-house lawyer doing pro bono, or a member of the public.
Are Lawyers Required to Do Pro Bono Work?
Pro bono is not mandatory in Massachusetts, but the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct strongly encourage it. See Rule 6.1 below.
Many law schools now have pro bono requirements, and in 2012 the state of New York adopted a rule requiring applicants for admission to the New York State bar to perform 50 hours of pro bono services.
A lawyer should provide annually at least 25 hours of pro bono publico legal services for the benefit of persons of limited means. In providing these professional services, the lawyer should:
(a) provide all or most of the 25 hours of pro bono publico legal services without compensation or expectation of compensation to persons of limited means, or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means. The lawyer may provide any remaining hours by delivering legal services at substantially reduced compensation to persons of limited means or by participating in activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession that are primarily intended to benefit persons of limited means; or,
(b) contribute from $250 to 1% of the lawyer's annual taxable, professional income to one or more organizations that provide or support legal services to persons of limited means.
See Rule 6.1 with all Commentary here.
Rules aside, the reasons most lawyers do pro bono work can be summed up in these quotes from volunteer attorneys:
"It certainly is rewarding at the end of the day to know you've helped someone."
"I learned so much from my client. I used to think poverty was just not having money. It is so much more than that."
"Serving VLP helps the client, but I also believe that it helps the lawyer's soul."
I'm Retired from Private Practice. Do I Have to Pay the Bar Registration Fee to do Pro Bono?
Good news: If your legal work is limited to pro bono legal services with a legal aid organization, you may assume Pro Bono Retired status with the Board of Bar Overseers. There is no registration fee for this status. See Rule 8(b) below. You can find the BBO's Retired - Pro Bono Registration Statement here.
SJC Rule 4:02
(8) Pro Bono Status.
(a) Any attorney admitted to the practice of law in the Commonwealth who has assumed inactive status in accordance with Rule 4:02(4) but who wishes to provide pro bono publico legal services without compensation or expectation of compensation as described in Rule 6.1 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct (S.J.C. Rule 3:07) may advise the Board by filing an appropriate annual registration statement that he or she will limit his or her legal practice to providing pro bono publico legal services under the auspices of an approved legal services organization, as defined below. The annual registration statement shall indicate whether the attorney is, or was at the time he or she assumed inactive status, the subject of any pending grievance or disciplinary charge and shall be signed by an authorized representative of the approved legal services organization under whose auspices the attorney will provide services. Unless the Board of Bar Overseers objects, the attorney may begin providing pro bono services after filing such a statement.
(b) Any attorney admitted to the practice of law in the Commonwealth who has retired from the bar and discontinued the practice of law in this Commonwealth in accordance with Rule 4:02(5) may advise the Board by filing an appropriate annual registration statement that he or she will limit his or her legal practice to providing pro bono publico legal services without compensation or expectation of compensation as described in Rule 6.1 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct (S.J.C. Rule 3:07) under the auspices of an approved legal services organization, as defined below. The annual registration statement shall indicate whether the attorney is, or was at the time he or she retired, the subject of any pending grievance or disciplinary charge and shall be signed by an authorized representative of an approved legal services organization under whose auspices the attorney will provide services. Unless the Board of Bar Overseers objects, the attorney may begin providing pro bono services after filing such a statement.
(c) For purposes of this Rule, an approved legal services organization shall include a pro bono publico legal services program sponsored by a court-annexed program, a bar association, a Massachusetts law school, or a not-for-profit organization that provides legal services to persons of limited means and that receives funding from the federal Legal Services Corporation, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, the Boston Bar Foundation, or the Women's Bar Foundation, and in addition, shall include any not-for-profit legal services organization designated as an approved legal services organization after petition to the Supreme Judicial Court.
How is MassProBono Funded and Does it Cost Anything to Belong?
The original funding for MassProBono came from a Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) awarded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association (VLP). VLP contracted with Pro Bono Net, a nonprofit that hosts legal aid and pro bono websites throughout the U.S. and Canada, and the Massachusetts Legal Aid Websites Project, which is housed at the MA Law Reform Institute and coordinates MassLegalServices and MassLegalHelp.
MassProBono is free to individual volunteers and to pro bono organizations and programs. As you might expect, there are ongoing expenses involved in operating MassProBono. If you wish to contribute toward these expenses, please email us.