Ideally, lawyers should offer at least 50 working hours per year of free legal advice to people who cannot afford counsel. This is what the American Bar Association recommends, but requirements may vary according to each state bar.
As a young professional, Pro Bono work can give you more exposure to unexplored audiences, as it can give you access to assignments that might have never ended up in your hands otherwise.
However, the moment you decide to engage in Pro Bono work, you have to take into account some common traps that, if unforeseen, can put you in a problematic spot.
Make a conscious decision as to how much time you are willing to assign to Pro Bono work. Start by defining the estimated available hours that you will be able to devote to this type of service, based on your actual paying clients and the work they regularly bring. This will help you decide not only which Pro Bono cases to accept, but also to avoid neglecting the business side of your practice.
Choose Cases Based on Your Expertise
Working on something that you are familiar with and is your specialty may help you solve Pro Bono cases faster, thus preventing you from spending hours researching a new area.
Clearly Define Your Expected Outcome
Starting a relationship with a Pro Bono client should be similar to dealing with a paying client. Based on your experience, try to anticipate the different scenarios and potential outcomes.
Explain the scope of your service, detailing what the issue to be resolved is, your plan of action, and what would be a successful completion. This will also be your safe passage when dealing with demanding clients.
Specify Your “Project Exit Date”
Once you take on an assignment, it is crucial to stipulate a completion date and propose a contingency plan in case there is no clear closing date in sight by your set deadline. The backup plan for an extended case allows you to leave the assignment unfinished but with the certainty that it is being followed up.
Support Causes You Are Passionate About
When choosing Pro Bono work, it is always advisable to pick cases based on the social causes you are most passionate about. This will make your service more enjoyable and will help you stay motivated throughout each case’s progress.
For more information about Pro Bono opportunities available in your area, please check the National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide.