Pro Bono Service - Professional Responsibility
Before you graduate from Stetson University College of Law, you are required to complete a course in professional responsibility to learn the professional and ethical obligations of an attorney.
High ethical standards are implicit in every element of your training, and a commitment to service is part of our mission. Students are not licensed attorneys, and so they may not give legal advice.
Many students work on actual cases involving real clients. Law students involved in pro bono work should be aware that, although they are not licensed attorneys, they are bound to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Pro Bono Ethics
It is your responsibility to know your ethical and professional obligations. The Rules of Professional Conduct for Florida referred to below can be found on the Florida Bar's website.
Violation of these obligations can put your admission to the State Bar at risk, and could subject your Supervising Attorney to discipline because he or she has a responsibility to supervise you adequately.
There are at least four major professional responsibilities for students' pro bono work:
- Students have the same confidentiality requirements as lawyers, and this must be upheld even when your pro bono work comes to an end.
- Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.6 governs confidentiality, and states that a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client consents to it.
- This means you cannot speak to other students, friends, faculty, or staff about client matters.
- In addition, if you wish to use something that you wrote on behalf of a client as a writing sample, you must obtain permission from your supervisor and redact all confidential information that could identify the client(s) involved.
- Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.1 requires lawyers to provide competent representation to clients. Competent representation requires the lawyer to obtain the necessary legal knowledge and skill for representation. It also requires the lawyer to be thorough and prepared.
- Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.3 states that a lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.
- Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.4(a) states that a lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.
- All of these rules apply to the work that law students perform in a pro bono capacity. For example, professionalism requires law students to be prepared, to keep the client informed about the status of the case, and to perform thorough research. If you are unfamiliar with legal issues related to a case, you must seek the guidance of your supervising attorney.
- In addition, professionalism requires law students performing pro bono work to arrive at work on time, dress in appropriate professional attire, remain courteous, and be considerate of everyone around you.
3. Do not hold yourself out as an attorney while doing your pro bono work
- As a law student performing pro bono work, you must not hold yourself out as an attorney at any point.
- You may not give legal advice, but you may provide legal information. As a law student, you must be careful that any legal information you provide to a client is not tied directly to the client's specific set of facts. If asked how legal information applies to the client's case, you must inform the client that you are not an attorney and cannot give legal advice on specific matters.
4. Conflicts of Interest
- The prohibition on conflicts of interest apply to law students completing pro bono work just as they would for attorneys. For example, if you worked at a firm for one party, then later represented the opposing party in a clinic for pro bono hours, this would be a conflict of interest.
- You must reveal all potential conflicts of interest to your supervising attorney.