Are you someone who blames not getting enough clients on being a first-generation lawyer?
Or someone who is trying to seek answers to why are you not getting enough recognition despite burning the midnight oil?
Pro bono work, done strategically can give you the solution you need.
You may have heard that a good lawyer need not engage in business development or promotional activities and that in fact, such practices are unethical in the legal profession! That’s not true.
Building a law practice or a law firm requires strategic thinking, focused efforts, and great execution. It is important to think of your practice or law firm as a business, a form of entrepreneurship. Most lawyers put zero effort towards building their practice.
Very few lawyers consider pro bono work to be an avenue to establish credibility or grow their practice fast. Many consider it to be charity or distraction. However, strategically done, pro bono activities can make a huge difference in your professional development as well as the growth of your practice.
In most cases, owing to the low remuneration a lawyer earns during his early years makes him completely abandon the idea of going pro bono, which is the biggest misconception among the legal fraternity.
How can pro bono work lead to practice growth?
#1 Solidifying relationship with the Bar and Bench
Early on in your career, one of your biggest goals as a lawyer should be to develop a strong reputation among the who’s who of the legal fraternity who can guide you, mentor you. People who know your skills, people who appreciate you, people who can not only vouch for your work but recommend you to projects, so as to expand your professional footprint is very important.
How can pro bono work help with that?
When senior lawyers see that you are doing free work for the underprivileged, or organizations and public causes that deserve the support of lawyers, they begin to respect you for your public service. You immediately stand out from the masses of junior faces desperate to interact with the best of the best in the industry.
When you are working on important public causes, many senior lawyers will happily guide you or pitch in with their expertise so you succeed in your public cause endeavors.
Even judges notice that you are selflessly working for people, and come to respect and honor your efforts.
By doing pro bono work, you will earn the goodwill of many seniors who will then be extremely pleased to support you rather than you desperately trying to get their attention.
#2 Pro bono work gives you an opportunity to get started when you don’t have clients
Nobody wants to give work to untested young lawyers. Why take the risk when they can go to a more experienced person?
However, when you do pro bono work, those who cannot afford a lawyer or have no hope of getting any relief for some reason will entrust you with their work, because what do they stand to lose anyway?
For example, when people are in desperate need of bail, they approach senior and experienced lawyers. There is very little chance that a young lawyer will get to argue bail matters. How then, are you going to make your name as a good criminal defence lawyer?
You may go to jail and find inmates who have not got bail for a long time, and do not even hope to get it. Maybe they have given up or their family has run out of money. This is your opportunity to take up such matters for free and then you will get to work on these cases and argue before judges, make an impression and get the experience of regularly appearing before these judges.
Very soon, you will begin to get success. When that happens, the inmates who are going out of the jail will tell everyone about how there is a great benevolent lawyer who helped them to secure bail. All those people may approach you after that for assistance, primarily for two reasons: you have proof of success, which makes others in need of legal service trust you, and the second is that you appear to be a good person who genuinely cares about people because you do pro bono work.
People are terrified to trust lawyers, but if they come to know someone does pro bono work regularly, they trust such a person very easily as you have established that you are not a cutthroat lawyer who only cares about money.
Taking up pro bono work provides these early opportunities for substantial and meaningful direct interaction with clients who are in dire need of help and can’t afford it. Those clients will refer you to many others in the near future. Each person you help will become an ambassador for you.
#3 Pro bono education for your future clients builds a pipeline
Educating your potential clients is also a form of pro bono work that has great potential. For example, if you want to work on wildlife matters or environmental, is it possible to interact with forest officials and educate them on how to prosecute those who violate wildlife laws? If they all have learned important lessons on prosecution from you, how much is the possibility that they might recommend you for prosecuting those matters to their respective departments? What is the possibility that they may influence those who need a lawyer to come to you?
It is the same in every area of law. Many law firms have their blogs or youtube channels for the same reason. Law firm partners even pay money to go and speak in industry events where they get a chance to educate their potential clients.
Educating your clients is one of the most important marketing strategies for lawyers, and do not miss out on it!
Social Pro bono work vis-a-vis business-related pro bono work?
It is not necessary that only those who deal with issues of individual or society can do pro bono work. It is equally important and relevant for business lawyers.
You can start by helping small startups and rookie founders who cannot afford a lawyer yet, or you can give legal support to an industry association in matters that affect their members or constituents.
How to strategize your Pro bono projects?
1. Take 1-2 cases a week or month depending on your schedule
You might have just started your independent practice, or working under some senior. In all these scenarios, try to analyze how much time you can actually spend on going pro bono. Take up cases that suit your time schedules, because if you’re not able to do justice to these cases, it can lead to bad publicity as well.
2. Do not overstretch yourself, draw clear boundaries about how much time you will spend on pro bono
Doing pro bono work is important for your practice, but it is also important to not let it hamper your regular work. Treat pro bono work only during specific hours of the day and also do more such pro bono work that helps to build your practice. Many people make the mistake of taking up too many pro bono matters in an unsustainable manner. Do not overstretch yourself.
3. Find a void in the market and work on issues relevant to it
It is very important to go beyond the normal in understanding problems in your area of specialization. When you shortlist the area of practice you’re willing to work in, try to find a void in that specific area that requires urgent attention. This would eventually cater to your practice in the best way possible!
For example, we all know of Trust Legal as one of the best environmental law firms in the country, but a little known fact that in its initial years it undertook a plethora of pro bono seminars for environmental officers, training them the environmental laws. This is what made them solidify their presence in the market.
4. Set up a helpline to assist and guide your target group/practice
It is not always possible for you as a lawyer to be able to invest physical presence, especially for pro bono matters. This does not mean you can not really do pro bono work.
You can set up a helpline number wherein you can resolve the doubts and queries of your area of specialization. You can decide on planning out the time slots for the same as per your schedules, while also harnessing any deviation from your usual work life. For example, Lawsikho’s CEO, Ramanuj Mukherjee provided legal advice on various issues like sexual blackmail, salary dues, etc, via a helpline.
5. Offer training sessions to industrial bodies/associations
Training sessions are the gamechangers for pro bono work. You are able to cater to a large audience, with similar interests and doubts together in one setting. Training sessions do not only help you in developing your skills but also improve your brand value in the market, which is the most important skill to survive and establish your practice for years to come.
It is high time that lawyers, especially independent litigators, who want to make a mark in the practice realize that going pro bono does not lead to loss of billable hours.
While at the same time, it is also necessary to find the right time management for your practice and pursuing pro bono.
Are you someone who would like to grow your law practice predictably, reliably and smoothly with more ideas like this?
It is absolutely possible by applying sound principles of management and building systems with purpose and clarity. Go check out Certificate Course in Legal Practice Development and Management.
Also, check out our other courses that close on 14th January-
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Students of Lawsikho courses regularly produce writing assignments and work on practical exercises as a part of their coursework and develop themselves in real-life practical skill.