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How to Pro Bono Without Losing Money

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

This week is the ABA's Pro Bono Week. Basically, the week is touted as a time to celebrate those who do pro bono work, and encourage those who don't, to start.

Doing pro bono work is one of those things that attorneys say they'd like to do more of, while also saying they're unable to due to time or money issues. However, pro bono work doesn't have to be viewed as a financially losing proposition.

Here are a few helpful tips on how to do pro bono work without losing money.

1. Fee Provision Contingent Bono

If a client cannot afford to pay, but a contract or cause of action allows for recovery of attorney fees, you can structure your agreement to only obtain payment via a court order or negotiated settlement that includes your fees. But beware the potential conflict of interest around your getting paid and the client's best interest.

2. Tax Deductions

Depending on what expenses you have, you may actually get a few tax deductions for doing pro bono work. Unfortunately, your time is not deductible.

3. Resume / Profile Building Pays

Lawyers generally do not have good reputations among the public. But lawyers that volunteer are a little different. If you're giving away time for free to people who really need help and can't afford it, you need to make sure that the entire world knows about it. Doing a handful of volunteer hours per year can go a long way towards establishing an image as a good person, which, in turn, could allow you to raise your rates. After all, if a client wants to feel good about who they're hiring, shouldn't they shoulder some of that cost?

4. Weekend Volunteering

You're not billing on the weekend anyway, right? If you can squeeze in some weekend pro bono work, like volunteering at legal clinics providing free consultations, you can chalk it up to time spent marketing yourself and your practice. Apart from the clients who will be singing your praises, networking with other volunteering attorneys at free legal clinics is good way to generate referrals. 

Usually clinics only have one attorney for each area of law. This makes networking with the other volunteering attorneys outside your area a great way to generate referrals, and is easier than attending traditional networking events as you'll have a better sense of camaraderie via the meaningful volunteer work. 

Have an open position at your law firm? Post the job for free on Indeed, or search local candidate resumes.

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