I came across an interesting topic about the question of “Should I do stuff as a lawyer for free?”.  This is a little beyond  basic pro bono work which is almost a requirement for most attorneys.  This explores more the areas of doing volunteer work as well as free seminars, etc.

Let’s step back from this seemingly innocuous question and ask ourselves what is the motive behind doing  free work?  Is it to obtain more clients?  Is it to make ourselves feel better? Is it because of guilt? Are we looking to impress someone?  Or do we just  want to do something with our friends that isn’t straight legal work?

The reasons behind what we do each day is very important and will guide us into success or failure.  If we coldheartedly go out to try and persuade colleagues and clients that we are doing works because we are true caring individuals, this doesn’t work.  Somewhere along the line, if not done for the right reasons,  the truth will emerge, especially when the going gets tough.

Then, what should our attitude be?

  • First of all, a bit of soul searching needs to take place.  It is true that volunteering in organizations can produce clients and contacts as a by- product, but that must never be the main objective. It is also true that volunteering can relieve some of the day to day stress of being an attorney. This could be our main objective.  Now the question arises, what is the difference? The volunteer organization is getting the same commitment and outcome so why should it matter?
  • The answer is how you feel.  If you don’t get any new clients or leads, you will be disappointed and discouraged. If you get new clients and leads, you may feel guilt if that was the only reason you were doing good works and feel disappointed and discouraged.  There is a greater chance that you will come out feeling badly if you are doing this for monetary reasons as your main objective.  If, on the other hand, you have chosen the volunteer group on the basis that it will produce the most joy in your life, then more than likely good feelings will flow from your efforts, whether or not clients are forthcoming.

Now let’s talk about giving seminars or Blogging or tweeting.  In these types of setting, we need to give value.  The emphasis is not what we are getting but what we are giving. True, again we may be able to increase business this way, but just putting out self- serving tweets won’t do it.  Focus on the audience, not what you have been told you should be saying.  What do they want to hear?  What could make their life easier or give them some new important information.  This is the reason that Personal Injury attorneys need to be blogging about the safest cars and the rules concerning infant seats, not how many cases they have won.  Probate attorneys need to look to informing the public about scams perpetrated on the elderly, not on their low rates for wills.  IT attorneys about how to keep our computers out of the hand of hackers, not about the latest very expensive gadget.  And on and on….

There is also the problem of expectations.  If you go into an activity with the belief that you will get  tangible rewards from doing good work, better take time to re evaluate the situation.  The best way to approach free work is to have a very low expectation of what will be the personal result.  The most effective way to think about this is that you are very likely to get good feelings as a by-product, not a direct known result.

And remember, it is called Free Work.  It is WORK and you are not getting paid for it.  Payment may not be in money but many times, we expect that we will gain respect or camaraderie from it.  That may or may happen.  One thing you can be sure about however, is that you will gain SELF RESPECT if you come with a truly open giving heart.

How about the attorney who is on an extremely limited budget? Is it realistic to expect pro bono work as well as volunteering?  This is a large question and there has been rumors that some Bars are going to require Pro Bono work be reported.  If this comes about all the problems associated with requiring that we work for no monetary or career gains will fail. Bad attitudes will disrupt any kind of good intentions.  Let’s keep it so that when we feel able to give that we can do it with generosity and gratefulness  for our choice.