More than likely you have heard the term “pro bono,” but unless you have ever filed a lawsuit, you may have no idea what it is or how it works. Hopefully, there will never come a time that you need extensive education on this topic, but because life can change on a dime, this is something that everyone should learn about, at least on a basic level.

Derived from the Latin word “pro bono publico,” this term means that an attorney works on your behalf but without charging a fee until the case is settled. As licensed and practicing professionals, these attorneys volunteer their legal services along with working on standard paid cases. As a result, you can find a qualified expert regardless of the type of lawsuit you file.

While some lawyers who donate hours of service as part of a pro bono case will not accept any financial compensation at the conclusion of a winning lawsuit, most take a percentage paid by the sued party. Because the terms of the contract between the person or non-profit that hire the lawyer can vary, it is important to research different sources before choosing a professional to assist with a case.

According to the American Bar Association’s Model Rule 6.1 as part of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys should provide a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono legal services annually. Although not mandated, this rule emphasis that services should go toward low-income people or not-for-profit organizations that help the less fortunate. In almost every state, this ethical rule applies.

As an example, say you suffered serious injuries as the result of a car accident caused by another party. However, for some reason, that person’s insurance company refuses to pay your medical expenses, leaving you with no choice but to file a personal injury lawsuit. Without adequate financial means, you may not be able to afford to hire a lawyer to present your case in court. In that situation, you can find an attorney to take the case pro bono.

Once the lawsuit goes through all the necessary court proceedings and you win, the lawyer will then take a fair percentage of the financial compensation, leaving you with the remainder. Ultimately, you end up with the money you need for medical care and possibly pain and suffering, while the attorney receives payment for his or her services.

As another example, if you have a non-profit organization that provides a service to the needy, and you, unfortunately, have to sue someone who stole money, you would likely qualify for pro bono assistance. The main purpose of this type of volunteer legal service is to help people and not-for-profits without the necessary financial means to receive the justice they deserve.

Today, most law schools include pro bono training in the curriculum for future attorneys. If you find yourself in a position of needing legal assistance, make sure that you select a professional with experience in handling your specific type of case and one with expertise in pro bono situations.