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Using Pro Bono Work to Benefit Your Community and Your Law Firm

Noel Peel

Written by

Noel Peel


September 5, 2019

Lawyers have always worked to benefit their local communities by promoting justice and fair procedures (we do it here at Smokeball). At great costs to themselves, some lawyers have taken on powerful forces such as government systems and corporations in defense of ordinary people who didn’t have the means to pay for legal services. If it wasn’t for attorneys willing to do pro bono work many low-income Americans would not have adequate legal representation to resolve their legal issues. And it’s for this reason that every law firm should consider how they do pro bono work and how it can support their community and their law firm’s mission.

Why Do Law Firms Do pro Bono Work?

Some of the biggest and most successful law firms carve out time and money to do pro bono work because it is part of their reason for practicing law. Law firms that represent immigrants in court (and for a fee) can continue to serve their mission by also donating some portion of their legal services to people who can’t afford to pay. Many associates and partners see pro bono work as part of their overall civic duty as a citizen and as human beings so they’re attracted to law firms that have a strong commitment to the idea of pro bono work.

How Do Solo-Practitioners Find the Time?

While there is no rule that says lawyers must donate their legal services, The ABA model rule states that an attorney should donate at least 50 hours a year to pro bono work for the public good. But many attorneys, especially those working as solo-practitioners, may find it difficult to meet that goal. Here are some tips on finding the time to volunteer as an attorney.

  • Donate fewer than 50 hours. Even if you can’t donate the full 50 hours a year to pro bono work, consider donating half that amount or even just a fraction. Putting in just a little bit of time can go a long way to contributing to the public good and helping solve another person’s legal issues.
  • Schedule it. If you’re not deliberate about finding a specific date for doing pro bono work, it simply won’t happen. Years will pass and you won’t reach your pro bono goals. Set aside time in the year (a week, a month, or even just a day) to volunteer your legal expertise.
  • Volunteer for an organization.  If you can’t take on a full case, donating your time as a legal advisor for a legal aid organization can make a huge difference.

Finding the time to do pro bono work will require commitment on your part to simply set aside time each year for volunteering.

How Do We Manage the Costs?

Not every law firm can afford to take on a case pro bono. Before you take on a pro bono case, consider the full costs. How many staff hours will be required? What are the filing fees? Expert fees? Translation costs? How much travel is involved and what is the cost? Knowing how much a pro bono case will cost you in time and money will help you manage those resource investments.

Doing pro bono work can be rewarding for you law firm and society. Just make sure you manage your time and your resources effectively.

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