Ethics discussions can be incredibly complicated. Often the correct ethical decision is dependent on multiple factors and interpretations. While usually ethics discussions focus on what a lawyer can do, Jennifer Kroman, Director of Pro Bono Practice for Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, and the panel for the Practising Law Institute’s webinar “Ethical Issues in Pro Bono Representation 2015” ask pro bono attorneys to focus on what a lawyer can and should do in order to provide the best service to the client.

For pro bono attorneys, it is important to bear in mind the best interests of the client beyond the usual ethics as an attorney. Many clients in need of pro bono services may also be facing additional legal and other challenges that make their situation unique. Through the use of several hypothetical situations, the panel walked through various ethical issues that commonly arise while providing volunteer or pro bono service. From client-attorney relationship concerns to best practices, PLI’s webinar provides information and recommendations from experts in the field on the best ways to handle ethics quandaries that arise in practice.

For example, the first hypothetical situation handled a domestic abuse client seeking pro bono assistance who already had a lawyer handling an immigration claim. Unfortunately, in this hypothetical, the immigration claim submitted by the client’s other attorney did not align with the information the client provided to the pro bono attorney. The questions that arise in this situation hold various ethical connections and concerns.

First, should the pro bono attorney request to take on the additional immigration law dynamic? This question should be dependent on the pro bono attorney’s understanding and experience of immigration law, as well as the consideration of the client’s best interests. It also begs the question of how the pro bono attorney should discuss this option with the client themselves.

Many clients have difficulty deciding which lawyer to trust, and what decisions to make without a full and complete understanding of their rights and options. It is ethically, as well as practically, important that the attorney be honest and clear with the client, provide information and options in plain language so the client can understand, and allow the client to make their own decisions.

From here the hypothetical continued allowing the panel to discuss ethical questions that arise when dealing with immigration law, remediating false immigration statements, and providing multifaceted service to clients with multiple legal concerns.

The second hypothetical handles a situation of attorney client relationships when the issue of confidentiality is involved. In this hypothetical there are two individuals who are potential clients, a mother and her son. The son was referred to the attorney by the mother’s social worker who is currently in the hospital, and discusses various issues in regards to the mother’s housing situation. The son has moved in with the mother to help take care of her and to help with the rent. However, the intended client is the mother. Therefore, it is imperative for the attorney to make it very clear who they intend to represent, and ensure that if in representation of both clients, that they do not have any conflicting interests.

In this particular hypothetical, the mother has a complaint against the son which complicates the matter ethically. In the webinar, the panel discussed what these issues are and what options are available to the mother, son, and attorney in a situation of that kind.

With three additional hypotheticals, the panel discussed legal ethics hotlines, client retainer forms, unauthorized practice of the law, and best practices for speaking with clients who need translators. Access to this webinar is available here:


Professor Bruce A. Green – Director and Louis Stein Professor, Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Fordham University School of Law

Louis S. Sartori – Director, Pro Bono Practice, The Legal Aid Society


Erin M. Correale – Compliance Director, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Jennifer L. Kroman – Director of Pro Bono Practice, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

Randye Retkin – Director and Founder, LegalHealth, New York Legal Assistance Group

Janet Sabel – Chief Deputy to the New York State Attorney General, New York State Attorney General Office (for institutional affiliational purposes only)

Program Attorney(s):

Janet L. Siegel – Program Attorney, Practising Law Institute


Practising Law InstituteThis seminar/webcast was hosted by the
Practising Law Institute. To register for any webcasts or seminars go to for more information.

At the core of Practising Law Institute’s mission is its commitment to offer training to members of the legal profession to support their pro bono service. PLI offers pro bono training, scholarships, and access to live programs, Webcasts, and On-Demand archived programs, as well as an extensive Pro Bono Membership program. For more information about PLI’s pro bono programs and activities, please Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Group on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @ProBonoPLI.