Is Pro Bono Work Worth It For Lawyers? Here Are The Pros And Cons

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Most lawyers would probably have come across the quote by Ifeanyi Onuoha that “Nothing is free even in Freetown”. It is a statement that tends to underscore the value-for-money mercenary underpinnings of the 21st century capitalism. People do things for barter. Even law students know the feel of a contract that lacks the savor of consideration. It will be suitable for no better place than the judicial trash can. Even books like “Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt” have served to blue pencil this capitalist tendency in the world. The question then is, why would a lawyer want to offer freebies? What then is the quid pro quo? After running up debts in thousands of dollars in law school tuition (assuming you hail from the US) and about half a million Naira in expense at the Nigerian law school, why then would any lawyer entertain pro bono work?

The rationale behind why lawyers still fancy pro bono seems to bother on the overpowering need to serve humanity (as where the clients are poor or the matter is in the public interest) since after all knowledge is for service. Of course we all want the mint but sometimes in practice, it can’t always be about the cash. In certain countries of the world, lawyers do however receive stipends for pro bono work. Take Turkey for instance where the government pays for the costs of legal fees incurred by indigent clients. That said, let’s examine the pros and cons of the side of the business.

Pros:

(1) It has great networking value

We have enthused on this already. But let me say this. Besides being commercially aware, doing pro bono is an immensely valuable tool to recent law school graduates in the course of networking. It will bring you in contact with exciting areas of practice as well as other passionate professionals in other legal fields. The plus is that you’ll build amazing relationships and contacts you can leverage in your job hunt.

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(2) You will gain experience

I hate to burst your bubble but law firms make hiring decisions based on a job candidates work experience and skills not just based on a dry CV. So law graduates coming fresh out of law school may find this criteria unattainable since they haven’t gained any working experience in any relevant field of law. It then leaves fresh law graduates in something of a catch 22 situation since you cannot get the job unless you have working experience and cannot get the working experience unless you’ve got a job.  Most employers are unlikely to employ law graduates who are knee high to a grasshopper fresh from law school. And this just where pro bono work comes into its own.  Doing Pro bono offers new lawyers the opportunity to gain the relevant work experience working on exciting cases needed to secure jobs at law firms. Pro bono cases are usually entry-level jobs that rarely place that much premium on work experience as a criteria for hire especially since it’s free (beggars they say, can’t be choosers remember) so you don’t have to worry about being so knee high to a grasshopper.

(3) It is for the glory

It will never forget my land Law Professor’s advice on engaging in pro bono work. It will get you into limelight. Should I run that by you again? Vultures they say go where the carcasses are. Pro bono cases will have just that effect. If the media get the faint whiff that you are doing an important case for free, they will be all over you and soon enough you might be announced to the world for your humanitarian services. So take cases that will likely get the attention of the media period.

(4) You would be helping someone who would unlikely have had access to justice.

(5) It will be both fun and exciting especially if you are careful enough to pick an interesting case. Be choosy

Cons:

(1) It has zero remuneration value

Unless you are from a country where government reimburses pro bono lawyers, like trustees you may get zilch for your personal care and troubles in handling pro bono cases.

(2) People won’t value anything on the cheap

You know human psyche too well. Give them anything for free and they will be very offhand about it. This goes for pro bono work. The less clients pay for your legal services, the more likely they will be impatient, interrupt your schedule with ceaseless calls and second guess your work. And this is among the reasons why so many lawyers are unhappy with their jobs

(3) We can’t guarantee it will always be fun

In the general run of pro bono work, you might find exciting cases to work on, but that won’t always be the case. You may handle the case of an unsympathetic client who might make life very difficult for you.

Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Law Student Hub. He is an LL.B. Law graduate from the University of Benin, Nigeria. He’s a life enthusiast, a budding writer and internet entrepreneur. Patrick is deeply passionate about law and research and has inspired many with his thought-provoking articles. To get in touch, follow him on social media.

2 Comments
  1. Siyotu says

    Do these law firms allow undergraduate students? I would love to offer my services to gain experience while studying.

    1. Patrick Herbert says

      You mean whether there are law firms offering internship opportunities to law undergraduates to gain work experience (as in legal clinics). It depends on your jurisdiction but you can make efforts to contact law firms around your vicinity to see if they have any such openings for you. But since you are still an undergraduate, judging from your comment, it might only be best to intern with law firms during your holidays. Hope this helps

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