Thursday, 8 July 2010

Low Bono versus Pro Bono: A Some or Nothing Approach?

Low bono, or reduced fee representation for individuals whose incomes are too high to qualify for legal aid, has received growing attention in recent years. Solo and small firm attorneys who regularly provide discounted services or instalment plans for lower income clients have argued that this “stealth pro bono” should be taken into account when calculating bar-mandated pro bono hours.

Debates regarding the efficacy of low bono versus pro bono in fostering access to justice have also emerged. In a recent law review article, prominent low bono advocate Luz Herrera argues that: “Pro bono models do not sufficiently address the inadequacy of affordable legal services by the private bar” and that a “shift from a pro bono to a low bono legal services model would improve access to the judicial system…” Luz Herrera, Rethinking Private Attorney Involvement Through a “Low Bono” Lens, 43 Loyola L.A. L. Rev. 2009, 1.

As full-service low bono law firms pick up steam, will we come to a “some” or “nothing” crossroads? Should certain types of services remain pro bono regardless of ability to pay “something”, i.e. domestic violence?

Posted by
Patrice Dziire
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee


  1. For more than a decade, the Law School Consortium Project in the U.S. helped member schools develop networks of low-bono providers in their respective communities. See for more information about this model of facilitating low-bono service.

    Robin Westbrook
    Pro Bono and Access to Justice committee officer

  2. In Australia our definition of pro bono for most purposes includes legal services provided at a "significantly reduced fee" which is probably the same as "low bono".

    John Corker
    National Pro Bono Resource Centre
    Sydney, Australia

  3. I suspect that there is an argument in many jurisdictions that many legal aid practitioners have long been, and continue to be, involved in low bono. This is likely to be a topic visited in the PPID Showcase session on Legal Aid at the annual conference in Vancouver in October and all views on this are therefore very welcome.

    Tim Soutar
    Pro Bono & Access to Justice Committee