Many lawyers and legal organizations provide pro bono work. In common usage pro bono refers to volunteer work done for the public good. In the legal field, lawyers who do pro bono work take cases for those who are disadvantaged and unable to secure legal assistance. Additionally, legal advocacy organizations (organizations that take on cases) usually provide pro bono representation for their clients.
There are a number of nonprofit institutions and other organizations that may be able to represent you or provide other legal assistance. Should the organization offer to represent you in court, you will be in the enviable position of enjoying free legal work done by lawyers passionately committed to the underlying causes of your situation. Note that these lawyers may be working on your individual case because they want to break new legal ground or advance the law in a particular way to benefit society as a whole. Thus, you will want to make your individual goals clear to them. More often than not, they will share your goals and you'll be able to forge ahead.
If you are a journalist or online publisher in need of legal assistance, please visit our sister site, the Online Media Legal Network (OMLN), a free initiative that connects lawyers from across the country with online journalists and digital media creators who need legal help. Lawyers participating in OMLN provide qualifying online publishers with pro bono and reduced fee legal assistance on a broad range of legal issues. More information is available here.
See the Nonprofit Legal Assistance Organizations by State section for organizations in your state that may be of help. On a national level, here are some organizations whose work may be of interest (listed alphabetically):
- American Civil Liberties Union: An advocacy organization that focuses on individual rights as guaranteed by the Constitution, including First Amendment rights. The ACLU provides a list for all its affiliates in the country.
- Chilling Effects: A fantastic website that focuses on promoting the protections that the First Amendment and intellectual property laws give to online activity. Contact Chilling Effects.
- Digital Media Law Project (DMLP): Yes, we put ourselves on our own site. We provide training and resources for individuals and organizations involved in digital media. We also perform research and provide advocacy on free speech, newsgathering, intellectual property, and other legal issues related to online speech. Contact us!
- Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF): EFF is an advocacy organization dedicated to digital freedom. Specifically, EFF works on free speech, privacy, and consumer rights in the digital domain. Contact EFF.
- Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC): A public interest research center focusing on the overlap of privacy issues, the First Amendment, and constitutional values. Contact EPIC.
- Fair Use Network: An initiative of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Fair Use Network provides information about intellectual property law and supports fair use and other free expression safeguards within the law. The website also lists prominent public interest organizations and professional associations that provide guidance and referrals for people facing issues over speech, information, and fair use rights. Contact the Fair Use Network.
- The Freedom Forum: A foundation that works to promote free press, free speech, and newsroom diversity. Contact the Freedom Forum.
- Legal Aid Offices: Legal Aid organizations provide legal assistance to those who are unable to afford law representation. They are funded variously by private foundations, individual donors, or the federal, state and local governments. Pine Tree, a legal aid organization in Maine, lists legal aid offices by state.
- Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation: A nonprofit affiliate of Lex Mundi, the world's leading association of independent law firms. The Foundation calls upon Lex Mundi's unique global network of 160 top-tier commercial law firms to provide legal assistance to select "social entrepreneurs" on a pro bono basis. Contact them here.
- Media Blogger Association: An association focused on: promoting, protecting and educating its member-bloggers; supporting the development of citizen journalism; and helping to extend the power of the press. Contact the Media Blogger Association.
- Media Law Resource Center: Information clearinghouse that monitors developments in First Amendment law. Contact the Media Law Resource Center.
- National Campaign for Freedom of Expression (NCFE): An advocacy organization that provides support, to artists and arts communities to promote artistic freedom. The NCFE acts as a liaison between the arts community and the national civil liberties community, and also lists other similar organizations. Contact the First Amendment Project and the NCFE.
- National Lawyers Guild: An association of progressive lawyers, law students, paralegals, judges, legal secretaries, and community activists. Local chapters maintain attorney referral lines. Contact the National Lawyers Guild here.
- Public Citizen: A consumer advocacy organization that represents consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts. One of its iniatives is to fight for free speech on the internet. Contact Public Citizen.
- Reporters Committee Freedom of Press: A nonprofit organization committed to providing free legal assistance to journalists. Contact the Reporters Committee Freedom of Press - Scroll to the bottom to find the Legal Defense Hotline.
- State Bar Associations: Many state bar associations set a recommended number of hours per year for lawyers to perform pro bono services. Your state bar association may have a referral list of lawyers who are willing to take on pro bono cases. The American Bar Association has a state-by-state listing for state and local bar associations.
- Student Press Law Center: A legal assistance agency that focuses on censorship in student news media. The Center provides free legal advice and also has an Attorney Referral Network of lawyers across the country who are available to provide free legal representation to local students when necessary. Contact Student Press Law Center.
- TrustLaw Connect: TrustLaw Connect is a free international pro bono vehicle designed to make it easier for organisations with limited means to access free legal assistance and simpler for lawyers to engage in high impact pro bono work. Contact them here.
- Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (VLA): VLA provides free or cheap legal help for 'struggling' artists and other members of the arts communities. The New York VLA has a list of the VLA offices in the country with their contact information.