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At the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries, we often get questions about the meaning of words or phrases. Black’s Law Dictionary or other legal dictionaries define words or legal terms. Another source in the search for meaning is the first section of many of the chapters of Massachusetts General Laws, which includes definitions to be applied to the following law. Words and Phrases, a multi-volume set, contains references to judicial definitions from both state and federal courts.

In law, as in other fields, mastery of the vocabulary is the key to understanding. Words of Law will be a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates, highlighting a particular word or phrase and its meaning in law.

Today’s phrase is pro bono.

pro bono (proh boh-noh), adv. & adj. [Latin pro bono publico “for the public good”] (1966) uncompensated, esp. regarding free legal services performed for the indigent or for a public cause (took the case pro bono) (50 hours of pro bono work each year). The Model Rules of Professional Conduct ask that every lawyer aspire to rendering at least 50 hours of pro bono services a year. – pro bono, n.

“The bar in this country has a long-standing tradition of service pro bono publico – legal services ‘for the public good,’ provided at no cost or a reduced fee. This concept encompasses a wide range of activities, including law reform efforts, participation in bar associations and civic organizations, and individual or group representation. Clients who receive such assistance also span a broad range including: poor people, nonprofit organizations, ideological or political causes, and friends, relatives, or employees of the lawyer.” – Deborah L. Rhode & Geoffrey C. Hazard, Professional Responsibility 162 (2002).

 – Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th ed., Bryan A. Garner, Editor in Chief, Thomson Reuters, 2014.

In plain English

pro bono, adj. (1970) being, involving, or doing professional and esp. legal work donated esp. for the public good (pro bono work) – pro bono, adv.

– Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

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