"Low bono" has been around for more than a decade, but who really knows what it means? Almost everybody in the law business thinks of "pro bono" when encouraged to provide free or discounted legal services. But the American Bar Association says "low bono" is rising, and wants more lawyers to learn about it.
It is a lot more than a buzzword, the ABA Journal says. It's all the buzz around the ABA.
So what is low bono? It's charging fees that low- and middle-income clients can afford. Luz Herrera can tell you all about is, since she practically invented it. In the early years, she ran a low bono, solo practice in Compton, which says it all.
In 2009, the ABA honored her as a Legal Rebel because of her pioneering work in the field. She went on to found a non-profit that helped other lawyers do the same. At Thomas Jefferson School of Law, she worked on a legal incubator to teach students how to do it. Then she became an assistant dean at UCLA law school, and finally landed at Texas A&M to work on experiential eduction, externships and simulation courses.
She says low bono is not for attorneys who just want to make six-figure salaries at big law firms. It's for those who want to help people and still make a living. It's about work-life balance. "It's not necessarily going to be able to generate tons of money," she says. "It was the satisfaction I received, the relationships I built -- I was able to figure out how to make a living and live a reasonable life."
Shantelle Argyle knows what Herrera's talking about. Argyle co-founded Open Legal Services, a non-profit law firm in Salt Lake City. They serve clients who earn too much to qualify for pro bono assistance, but don't earn enough to hire a traditional law firm. Lawyers like Argyle and Herrera are part of the movement to bridge the gap in legal services for people of modest means. According to studies, economics and technology will dictate changes in the legal profession. Low bono is one of them. According to ABA Journal, the number of non-profit law firms has nearly quadrupled in the past five years. That accounts for 29 non-profit law firms and 60 legal incubators providing discounted legal services.
What does low bono mean to you?