There’s No Shame in Getting Paid

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The willingness of so many lawyers to do pro bono work is admirable, but there is no shame in asking for money in exchange for your time and skill. The tendency of so many people to take pro bono work for granted — to expect it — is what ought to be shameful.

If you’re dying of thirst, we may give you free milk. But we make our living off of selling cows. Please don’t forget that.

Read Free Milk on Simple Justice.

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  • Wes

    Sam,
    Thanks for sharing that. It is true that a lot of attorney’s do pro bono work and a significant amount of them don’t always report the things they do to the bar because they are over wrought with work and helping people. At the end of the day you must survive and make a living and that means getting paid.

  • Of course there is no shame in getting paid. In fact, if we as lawyers didn’t get paid for our services by those who can afford them, we would not have the ability to do pro bono work for those who can’t. However, I’m not sure how that leads to your conclusion that the expectation that lawyers should do pro bono is somehow shameful. We have the privilege to practice law, which no one without a law license can do – therefore it must be up to us to maintain access to justice by helping the poor with their legal woes. I’m against mandatory pro bono because forced legal work would most likely be sub-standard and the poor deserve better, but see nothing wrong with expecting lawyers to do the right thing.

    • Who said doing pro bono is shameful? I said it’s shameful when people take it for granted that we will work for free.

  • Esteban

    I agree with you. Too many times friends, etc forget my family also has needs.

  • I didn’t suggest that you said pro bono itself is shameful, just that you said the expectation that lawyers should do pro bono is shameful. I disagree with that. Obviously, someone with a small or solo practice may have fewer resources and less time to juggle pro bono, but they can still help. There are many ways to do pro bono and nearly every lawyer can find a way that doesn’t overburden him or her if so desired. And to Esteban’s comment, generally friends who are asking you to help them for free don’t constitute pro bono (they might of course, but probably not typically). Those are just favors.

    • Of course lawyers should do pro bono. But when I talk about expectation, I am talking about where that expectation comes from — and from whom. I am talking about the difference between someone who calls and asks if I would be willing to help them for free, and someone who calls and is upset when I will not. And I am talking about the difference between someone who cannot pay and someone who could, but doesn’t want to.

      The expectation that we should all do pro bono is a professional one. It comes from ourselves and from the bar. Our time, knowledge and skills are not something to which everyone is simply entitled.

      I do pro bono. I am a huge proponent of the importance of pro bono. I’m on the boards of two non-profits focused on providing pro bono legal services. And I hate it when people call expecting me to answer their legal questions for free as if they are entitled to it. They aren’t, and I am not ashamed to ask for a fee from those who can pay.