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A public interest law firm is a private, for-profit association of lawyers, like any other private law firm. However, public interest law firms are distinguished from private firms in that their primary mission is to assist underrepresented people or causes, rather than exclusively to make money. This difference in mission creates differences in billing practices and client selection. Some clients may be chosen with more emphasis on their need for the firm’s services and the cause their claim relates to, regardless of their ability to pay. Sliding scale fees, free work, attorney fee cases, and contingent fee cases are common.

Deciding whether a particular law firm fits within the definition of a “public interest law firm” is not always a simple task. An individual firm’s classification will require additional research into the firm’s overall philosophy, clients and cases.