Tax Deductions and Pro Bono Work

Many attorneys provide pro bono services for a variety of reasons: to gain experience, to transition into new areas of law, to network with other attorneys, and to do something good for others. Unfortunately, pro bono work can take up a lot of time depending on the case and client, and most attorneys would agree with Ben Franklin that “time is money.”

If you have taken on a lot of pro bono work, you might wonder whether the federal government values your time, as well. In other words, can the value of your time and services while providing pro bono legal services qualify as a charitable contribution that is deductible from gross income on your federal tax return? Unfortunately, in a word, nope.


According to IRS Publication 526, “you cannot deduct the value of your time or services, including blood donations to the Red Cross or to blood banks, and the value of income lost while you work as an unpaid volunteer for a qualified organization.”

Fortunately, you can deduct certain out-of-pocket expenses in giving services. In general, if the expense benefits a qualified charitable organization, it may be deductible: “Although you cannot deduct the value of your services given to a qualified organization, you may be able to deduct some amounts you pay in giving services to a qualified organization. The amounts must be: unreimbursed, directly connected with the services, expenses you had only because of the services you gave, and not personal, living, or family expenses.”

This includes expenses for travel-related costs, such as gas, taxis, shuttles, trains, lodging, meals, office supplies, voice and data communications, filing fees, postage and other expenses necessary for providing charitable services. It does not include travel expenses during a vacation or recreational activities or personal property used while providing pro bono services. You can, however, deduct maintenance costs for the printer, such as paper and ink used for the purposes of providing pro bono services. As with all tax deductions, it’s a good idea to save all of your receipts and keep a mileage log that you can give to your accountant or tax preparer to help guide you through the proper steps.

Finally, make sure that the pro bono work you provide is for an organization that qualifies to receive deductible contributions. Usually, an organization will be able to tell you if it is qualified, but you may also search a list of qualified charities on the IRS website by clicking on “Exempt Organizations Select Check” at www.irs.gov/charities or by calling 877-820-5500.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6355404323/)

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  • Bruce Godfrey

    There is at least an argument that since attorneys are required (in at least a hortatory way) ethically to do pro bono work, the expenses of that work if done within the context of a Schedule C law firm are not mere charitable expenses but in fact business expenses of being a lawyer in a way that they would not be for an architect. While donating old law school books to the legal clinic might not be a business expense, representing referrals from a referral organization pro bono involves business expenses to the practice which should be as deductible when the client pays as when she doesn’t.

    I would urge every self-employed to consult local tax advice as to the deductibility of expenses for pro bono clients as part of an ongoing business, and not merely to follow the advice seemingly given to put their deductions on Schedule A if they more properly belong on Schedule C and by extension Schedule SE if applicable.