Monday, April 03, 2006

Pro bono does not necessarily mean "for free"

Here's another example of what I believe is the unfortunate, but growingly conventional, misconstruction of the term "pro bono" to describe legal work.
ASHLAND, Miss. - The Selmer woman accused of shooting to death her minister husband has the best defense money can buy. But so far, Mary Carol Winkler hasn't had to pay for it. Mississippi lawyer Steven Ellis Farese Sr. is heading a dream team of four attorneys in her defense. The others are Steven Farese Jr., Memphis attorney Leslie Ballin and Atlanta attorney Marc N. Garber, a former federal prosecutor. They've been handling the highly publicized case pro bono, or for free. Farese Sr. took on the case March 23 at the request of a long-time friend, Memphis attorney Mike Cook, who is also Winkler's second cousin
"Pro bono" is short for "pro bono publico," which literally translated means "for the public good." It does not mean "for free," although most modern reference sources seem to have adopted this gloss as definitional. As the Winston & Strawn post below demonstrates, "for free" does not necessarily equate with "the public good," at least as far as most people would understand it. Also, there is nothing wrong at all or even mildly inconsistent with "pro bono" lawyers making fee applications in the cases they are handling. I'm not intending to make any comment upon whether the Winkler defense is truly being conducted in the "pro bono publico" spirit. It looks like it may very well be. It's just that it would be great if "high profile" trial lawyers would do the same for the countless indigent defendants who are facing capital murder trials without any real hope of accessing the type of legal services being provided here.


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