The (hidden) Value in Pro Bono Clients
Since practicing law as a solo practitioner, I have maintained a healthy flow of pro bono clients. This is in part because I want to help people who may not have access to justice, and also because I want the experience of working in different aspects of law. Still, the biggest bonus I have come across in maintaining a stream of pro bono clients is the plot twists and/or referrals that result.
Hello Mr. Smith
Mr. Smith was a client who saw me in the hallway of criminal court one late afternoon as I was walking out of the courtroom after a case. He approached me to ask if I practiced criminal law and told me a long and touching story of his aspiration to go to school and become a pilot. A felony charge on his record from a mistake in his early twenties would ruin that for him. I could relate - I thought the speeding tickets I had collected from my younger years would somehow prevent me from becoming a lawyer. It's nerve racking when a stupid mistake could possibly prevent you from having an entirely different life.
I told him I could represent him for a subsidized fee, half of what I would usually charge, with the understanding that if the case were to be indicted, I would require an additional retainer. He said he couldn't afford it, but I like criminal work and felt empathetic toward his situation so, after some time talking, I eventually retained him for free.
Fast forward to three months later.
Smith receives only a non-criminal violation (you’re welcome) and in gratitude, decides to tell me about a personal injury case in which his father was the victim. His father was unhappy with the attorney they hired, who didn't appear to be making any progress and struggled to return his father's phone calls. Mr. Smith offered me the opportunity to take over the case.
The moral of the story is: pro bono work is already a win because of the experience and you get to help people, however sometimes, taking on cases for free can open up doors to new clients and possibilities. I promised myself when starting my own law firm that I would always make time for pro bono work because it grounded me in the root ideologies and values of being a lawyer, and reminded me that there is more to being an attorney than a paycheck. If the case is important to you and you believe in your work, you may find that helping people may actually be the best compensation...and may prove a resourceful way to gain new, rewarding referrals.
If its about not having enough time, I suggest reevaluating how your spending your time. Now I have to get back to work, I don't have time to be writing blog posts..