By Jedidiah McKeehan

From time to time I will have someone contact me and ask me if I am willing to represent them on a pro bono basis, and usually they are kind of a jerk about it.  They act like it would be a privilege to represent them on a pro bono basis.  Unfortunately, I almost always politely decline their request.

What are these people asking me to do?  The term, “pro bono,” is simply a fancy term for volunteering in an area of professional expertise.  So these people who I have never met or spoken to, want me to work as their lawyer for them for free.

Volunteering, especially in “the Volunteer State,” is a great thing and is one of the pillars of what makes our country such a great place to live.  I immensely enjoy helping people regardless of whether it’s in my capacity as a lawyer or just as an individual.

However, I get a little frustrated when people call up my office and act offended when I am not willing to spend extensive amounts of my own time and resources working for free just because they believe that I should do so.

I presume these people would not ask their plumber to work on a pro bono basis, or ask their cable provider to provide them services, pro bono.  Maybe I am wrong, maybe they would.

What is even more frustrating is that almost every lawyer I know does at least some amount of volunteer work, and some do a whole lot.  Whether it’s for existing clients, for relatives, or through volunteer and community outreach services, lawyers are often volunteering their time and knowledge.  Lots of lawyers take part in Free Legal Clinics that take place throughout the years.

Other than doctors (and I feel really bad for them), lawyers are usually the most likely to get stopped in the church parking lot for, “just a quick question.”  We do our best to be gracious, and answer the questions asked of us, even though we make our livings by charging people for the advice that we are giving you for free.

On top of that, the situations that most people are facing do not require that they obtain a pro bono attorney.

When you are facing jail time or the loss of your parental rights, and you have little or no income, then you are entitled to a free attorney.

Further, Legal Aid is an organization that provides free legal counsel for poor people on other cases.  These can be any type of cases, but the most often kind of cases you see are orders of protections, divorces, and landlord-tenant matters.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.