In many firms, lawyers are invited to volunteer to work on some cases. What are the reasons that can lead a lawyer to accept a pro bono cause?
Strongly encouraged in the legal environment and practised by most firms, pro bono work is squarely a “moral duty”, according to lawyer Félix-Antoine Dumais-Michaud, who has practised a lot of pro bono work in the last five years.
“Law is expensive, and it is inaccessible to the less affluent social classes, who are often those who would benefit the most,” he explains. “Pro bono makes it possible to mitigate the significant underfunding of access to justice and the inadequacies of the legal aid program.”
A selfless gift or a boost for your career?
Pro bono work is therefore a noble way to give back to society. “I personally believe in it a lot,” says Félix-Antoine Dumais-Michaud. “It seems to me to be a more personal and committed way of practicing my profession.”
The other good reason to accept a pro bono cause is to contribute to advancing social ideas, for example, by accepting a cause in which one believes strongly but whose actors do not have the means to pay for the services of a lawyer. “Environmental causes, for example, are often done pro bono because they set organizations and pressure groups that are not wealthy against multinationals of the petroleum or mining industry,” says the lawyer.
Obviously, pro bono causes are also taken on with the stated objective of fostering a good reputation in the office, and in some cases to obtain high visibility. “High-profile cases,” says Mtre Dumais-Michaud, “can help to raise the profile of a law firm and increase its prestige. Certain pro bono causes also serve to becoming known in a specific industry and can be lucrative in the future, opening the door to future collaborations.”
But you have to be strong to get started. Some small offices simply cannot afford it because they do not have the structure to support this volunteer work well. “We should not point the finger at the smallest firms who would be too weakened by volunteer work,” Félix-Antoine Dumais-Michaud believes. “You can’t do pro bono at a discount, you have to make sure to devote as much time as you can if it’s a well worthwhile cause and offer the same level of professionalism.”
There are nevertheless few good reasons to be deprived of them!