August 21, 2017 Practice Points

Benefits of Pro Bono Work

By Emily J. Kirk

In the article, "4 Reasons Solo and Small Firm Lawyers Can, And Often Do, Participate in Pro Bono Work (And Debunking Other Pro Bono Myths)," author David Lash highlights that pro bono work does not have to trade off with billable hours, and that there is a critical role to play for solo and small firm practitioners. 

To the extent you may be discouraged from participating in pro bono work because you feel you do not have the expertise, Lash suggests this shouldn't be a concern.  This is because pro bono work is often supervised by expert legal services attorneys.  The legal services attorneys are the experts, and they regularly work with novices to provide guidance and mentoring.  "Combining the willingness of a good lawyer to help and the expertise of legal aid lawyers overwhelmed with cases and desperately in need of assistance, is an effective teaming of skills and resources." 

Lash argues that it is a fallacy to assume that you are not in a financial position to engage in pro bono work – and that pro bono work will take too much away from billable work.  Yes, he agrees that solo and small firm practitioners have a lot of work responsibilities that cannot be shared, but every solo and small firm lawyer finds time for things outside of billable work.  Lash argues helping indigent clients deserves a spot on that list.

Contrary to what some believe, pro bono clients are like any other client.  And, often times, they truly value the attorney-client relationship.  As Lash states, "Good client intake, with help from an expert legal aid organization, more often than not yields clients who are grateful, who understand they otherwise never would have been able to access the high-quality legal representation they are being given."

Lash says that some lawyers are concerned about being unable to separate the needy with meritorious cases from those who are "milking the system."  But he argues that really shouldn't be a concern.  Legal services attorneys are prepared to distinguish between the fair and unfair.  Accordingly, he says if you "desire to fulfill our profession's highest calling and provide access to justice for the indigent, [you] should direct [your] efforts to working in concert with …local experts."

Lash stresses that solo and small firm practitioners are a vital part of ensuring indigent clients have access to justice.  And, if you aren't already participating, you should consider taking on a pro bono client.  The experience is truly fulfilling. 

Emily J. Kirk is an associate at McCuneWright LLP in St. Louis, Missouri.

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