Lawyers' pro bono service and american-style civil legal assistance

Rebecca L. Sandefur

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Lawyers are often criticized for stinting on their responsibilities for public service; nevertheless, their uncompensated provision of legal services to poor people, or pro bono work, provides a substantial part of available civil legal assistance in the United States. Cross-sectional analysis of data from the late 1990s reveals that reliance on pro bono may render assistance vulnerable to market pressures in ways both obvious and subtle. In states where the legal profession takes in more receipts per lawyer, larger proportions of the profession provide uncompensated service to the poor. In states where the profession feels its work jurisdiction is under threat from unauthorized practice by other occupations, larger proportions of the profession participate in pro bono work than in states where there is no concern about unauthorized practice. As federally subsidized legal assistance shrinks in both scope and scale, growing reliance on pro bono leaves American-style civil legal assistance increasingly vulnerable to market forces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-112
Number of pages34
JournalLaw and Society Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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