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Benefits of Pro Bono Legal Work for Your Firm Growth

What is Pro Bono Work?

“Pro bono” means “for the public good” and the American Bar Association urges lawyers to take on pro bono work each year in order to serve those who are unable to pay. But solo and startup law firms may approach pro bono work with an attitude of skepticism. A common argument is that one hour spent on a pro bono case is one hour less of billable work. On the contrary, engaging in pro bono work provides many key advantages such as contributing to the growth of a firm.

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The Benefits of Pro Bono Legal Work for Your Firm Growth

Instead of approaching pro bono work in terms of billable hours, view it as a necessary part of growing your business – just as you would with marketing, networking, and client experience tasks. It also increases your firm’s reputation with fellow attorneys, judges, current clients, and prospective clients.

For starters, the aggravation that comes with growing your firm may start to make you feel burnt out, and your business can ultimately suffer. No one wants to work with an attorney who gives off a tired or desperate vibe. Serving pro bono clients can actually transform how you feel about your practice. It increases engagement, your personal satisfaction, and these factors can lead to big personal and financial benefits. Your current (i.e. paying) clients will see that you are much more engaged, as will your staff, your referral sources, and your professional network.

In addition to a sense of pride in helping others and reigniting your passion, pro bono work allows you to expand your legal knowledge and expertise. While you will approach these cases with a high degree of competence as any other paid case, pro bono work allows you to develop new practice methods and utilize new tools. These features can then be applied to your paid cases to provide increased efficiency.

A Lawyer excited to do Pro Bono Work

Lawyers who take on pro bono work are also exposed to various practice areas. While this may seem like a drawback, view it as an opportunity to expand your client development skills and work within unfamiliar client populations. If your practice area focuses on family law, but you take on pro bono cases concerning immigration, civil rights, or real estate law, you will have the advantages of a whole new set of connections, skills, and resources within those practice areas.

When it comes to enhancing the skills of your current staff, not only does pro bono work allow them to take the lead in a number of cases, but it can also help them increase their overall confidence and communications skills. Young associates are rarely given a shot at big cases, and how they handle pro bono work can provide some insight into rising stars within your firm.

Approaching pro bono work from a strategic point of view can also help grow your firm. For example, if the firm’s practice area involves business law, donating your time to non-profit organizations is a great means of subtle promotion. These organizations likely have board members who are well connected. Impress them with the work you do on a pro bono level and there is always the possibility that they will seek you out for paid opportunities in the future.

Keep in mind that pro bono clients, whether individuals or organizations, may be in a position one day to turn into paid clients. In these instances, there is a good chance that they will opt to work with a firm with whom they have a pre-existing relationship.

Pro bono services usually promote a firm’s reputation within the community. Sync up your pro bono work with your public relations and marketing efforts to create positive buzz about your willingness to help underserved individuals and companies within the community. A small mention on a local website or blog can do wonders when it comes to bringing in paying business.

Cultivating an environment of giving back may improve the overall morale of your company. These cases give attorneys and staff, who wouldn’t normally associate with each other, the ability to work together. When a group of your attorneys are devoted to the outcome of a particular case, it creates a unified work environment. Additionally, some of these relationships can turn into genuine mentoring opportunities.

From a recruiting standpoint, a commitment to pro bono service can put you at an advantage when it comes to attracting and hiring talented attorneys. Many of the top private lawyers have some sort of experience in public service, and look for firms who engage in regular service. Not only will you get top talent, but these lawyers will also be pro bono-oriented, making it a win-win for everyone – your firm, these attorneys, your community, and your clients.

Checklist for Setting Up a Pro Bono Program

Given all the benefits of pro bono work, you may want to set up a program right away. Before you do that, it’s important to create a structured program. While the following points are by no means comprehensive, they are are some highlights of what your master checklist should include:

The planning stage

  • Who do you want to help or what needs are you trying to meet within the community?
  • What staffing needs does the program require? Think outside of attorney resources and consider any administrative requirements, etc.
  • What is the best way to structure the program? Will you do a time-limited money program to give free advice, or will you take on a certain number of cases per month at no cost?

Costs

  • Create a budget that includes staffing hours, materials, and overhead expenses.
  • Do a cost/benefit analysis to take into account the impact to your bottom line. Be realistic and don’t stretch yourself too thin in the beginning. Start out doing as little as you can manage and grow the program as the firm grows.

Program Creation

  • What will be your intake or case acceptance criteria?
  • How will you reach out to relevant stakeholders?
  • Develop program policies and procedures for ongoing tracking, standard forms, and plans on how to close cases.

Program Maintenance

  • What methods will you utilize to provide ongoing training and support for volunteers?
  • What performance indicators will you use evaluate the success of the program?