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Pro Bono Opportunities

Pro Bono Counsel in Prisoner Cases

The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania has many civil rights cases filed by incarcerated individuals. Because many of these cases implicate disputes over material issues of fact, they may proceed to civil jury trials. Trying a lawsuit with an incarcerated pro se plaintiff presents obvious difficulties for all parties as well as the Court. To assist the Court and the parties in trying these cases, the Court has instituted a program of pro bono representation in selected cases. In most of these cases the Court will not appoint a pro bono volunteer lawyer until it has been determined that there are triable issues, dispositive motions have been ruled upon and the case is ready for trial. Volunteer lawyers will be permitted discovery as necessary to prepare for trial. Fees are not recoverable even if your client is awarded a verdict in his or her favor as this is viewed as strictly pro bono service. However, the court has a fund to cover reasonable costs incurred in the representation, regardless of the outcome of the case. In addition to aiding the court, as well as an opportunity for public service, these cases are especially appropriate for young lawyers who might otherwise not have the experience of trying a civil case to a jury in federal court. If you are interested in assisting the Court in this endeavor or have any questions, please contact Mike Palus at 412-208-7543 or email him at

Reimbursement of Pro Bono Attorney Expenses

The Court appreciates the pro bono services provided by those who have volunteered to be members of the District’s Pro Bono Panel.  While there is no statutory provision for the reimbursement of expenses, the Court will provide reimbursement for some reasonable, out-of-pocket expenses (see below) from its Attorney Admission Fund (the “Fund”).  The Fund is limited for such reimbursements, which counsel should consider when determining the most economically feasible approach to managing the litigation.  When an appointed pro bono counsel anticipates an expense for reimbursement, pre-approval from the presiding judge must be obtained. Failure to do so will result in the denial of any request for reimbursement.

Motion for Pre-Approval of Reimbursement of Pro Bono Attorney Expenses

To seek pre-approval of an expense, appointed pro bono counsel must file a Motion for Pre-Approval of Out-of-Pocket Expenses.  Attached to this motion, counsel should attach all supporting documentation that explains both the necessity of each expense and the anticipated amount.

Allowable Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Examples of out-of-pocket expenses include, but are not limited to:

  1. Local Mileage - Local travel costs at the then current government rate.
  2. Copy costs - Actual expenses, at no higher than 10 cents per page, for copies of records and documents necessary for case preparation.
  3. Deposition costs - Court repoter fees for depositions of essential witnesses may be reimbursed.  A transcript of the deposition should not be ordered unless it is essential to the presentation of the case.  To reduce expenses, out f town witness depositions should be taken by telephone or video teleconference.  Only one form of deposition will be reimbursed (video OR transcript), but not both.
  4. Witness fees and service of process fees - While these fees are ordinarily reimbursed, you must attempt service by mail or other reduced cost method first.
  5. Expert witnesses - Expert witness expenses will be reimbursed only if prior Court approval is obtained.  If you submitted a request for pre-approval of expenses prior to learning you will need the services of an expert, you must submit an additional request for pre-approval, that includes the anticipated costs for the expert services.  Court will set a limit on expenses related to the experts.
  6. Postage - Thes include necessary communication changes and postage incurred in your representation.

Receipts are required for all reimbursement requests.

Motion for Reimbursement of Pro Bono Attorney Expenses

Once pre-approval is obtained, if appointed pro bono counsel is seeking reimbursement of expenses, they must file a Motion for Reimbursement of Out-Of-Pocket Expenses that must include supporting documentation for each expense claimed. In the discretion of the presiding judge, the ordered reimbursement amount might not cover all actual expenses.

Recovery of Advanced Costs

Payments made from the Fund are subject to reimbursement to the Court if the appointed pro bono attorney prevails on an award of costs and attorney fees.


Pro Bono Attorney Letter
Procedures For Reimbursing Pro Bono Attorneys
Motion for Pre-Approval of Out-of-Pocket Expenses
Proposed Order for Pre-Approval of Out-of-Pocket Expenses
Motion for Reimbursement of Out-Of-Pocket Expenses
Proposed Order for Pro Bono Reimbursement


Pro Bono Counsel for Pro Se Clients in Alternate Dispute Resolution

Since 2007, the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania has offered to its pro se litigants the assistance of pro bono counsel during the alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) process. In 2013, the Court expanded this assistance to include incarcerated pro se litigants who have pending civil cases before the court. Through the Court’s Pro Se Pro Bono ADR Program, a judge typically refers a case to ADR after the case survives any dispositive motions but before the case is set to proceed to trial. All referrals to the Pro Se Pro Bono ADR Program must be made through court order.

The program allows both private (non-prisoner) and incarcerated pro se litigants to receive a professional evaluation of their case at a critical juncture of the litigation, and further allows litigants to gain a better understanding of the benefits that the ADR process can provide. The limited appointment of counsel is for the ADR process only and does not obligate counsel to assist the litigant with any other aspect of their case, including trial.

Since its inception, the Pro Se Pro Bono ADR Program has been administered for the Court by the Pittsburgh office of the law firm of Jones Day. If you would like to volunteer legal services to the Pro Se Pro Bono ADR Program, please contact the current coordinators of the Court’s Pro Se Pro Bono Program:

Eli J. Jones, Esq.
500 Grant Street, Suite 4500
Pittsburgh, PA 15219-2514

Scott B. Scheinberg, Esq.
500 Grant Street, Suite 4500
Pittsburgh, PA 15219