Federal Government Pro Bono Program
In April 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law. At the bill signing ceremony, the President said, "We need your service right now, at this moment in history. I'm not going to tell you what your role should be; that is for you to discover. But I am asking you to stand up and play your part." Since 1996, the Federal Government Pro Bono Program, directed by the Department of Justice, has worked tirelessly to spread the spirit of public service across the government and throughout our country.
Federal government attorneys around the country are helping those in need by handling pro bono cases, drafting wills, providing advice at legal clinics, mentoring students, and more. The Federal Government Pro Bono Program is available to help you find appropriate pro bono opportunities which do not pose conflicts of interest and which offer resources and support to help you have a successful and rewarding experience. This Practice Area contains information about the rules governing federal government attorneys' pro bono activity, resources to help you find opportunities, points of contact at your agency, and links to resources about different areas of law that you can use in your pro bono work. If you need additional assistance, contact Laura Klein, Chair, Federal Government Pro Bono Program, at Laura.F.Klein@usdoj.gov.
The Federal Government Pro Bono Program was originally established in 1996 to comply with an order from then President Clinton which instructed federal agencies to "develop appropriate programs to encourage and facilitate pro bono legal and other volunteer service by government employees to be performed on their own time, including attorneys, as permitted by statute, regulation or other rule or guideline."
Led by the United States Department of Justice, over 40 federal government agencies currently participate in the Program. This group was developed to assist federal government agencies with drafting pro bono policies, promoting the federal government's pro bono efforts, and expanding the pro bono program to other agencies and cities. Although the program has been well established in D.C. for over fifteen years, recent efforts have been made to expand the program to federal agencies in other cities, such as Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Boston, and Denver.
One of the unique aspects of the program has been its ability to thrive despite the unique challenges facing government attorneys who want to do pro bono work. Because government attorneys must provide legal services during their own time, cannot use government resources in providing services, and must be cognizant of job-related conflicts, pro bono work becomes all the more challenging. Yet, despite these obstacles, federal government attorneys have been able to provide pro bono services for a number of local agencies, engaging in such tasks such as providing advice and referrals, litigating civil cases, staffing clinics, and conducting mediation.