Giving back is something that is important for a lawyer. At the beginning of their career, many lawyers are concerned about paying back their student loans and other debts. They may be concerned about getting grounded in their careers. They may be concerned about being able to support themselves and their family. This can make it hard for many lawyers early in their career.
But once a lawyer is grounded, and can meet their own obligations, lawyers really should make a concerted effort to give back. Lawyers can give back in many different ways:
- Lawyers may choose to support the charities of their choice. They can often do that through donating their time or their money to help a particular charity.
- Lawyers may also give back by donating their time in teaching continuing legal education seminars. Sharing their knowledge with others lawyers betters the legal community, which has the net effect of helping lawyers provide better legal services to those in need.
- Lawyers may also give back by donating money to their college or law school. This can help others attending these universities better their academic experience and career through various scholarships, grants, services and activities on campus.
- Lawyers may also opt to give back by donating to pro bono agencies who provide pro bono representation to individuals who are indigent. A lawyer may even volunteer to take a pro bono case for an indigent individual.
There is a quandary, however, with certain lawyers who are not-so charitable, although they may oddly think that they are being charitable. This can often arise where lawyers obtain jobs within law firms where they are paid a lucrative salary and benefits. Yet, they do not seek to collect payment for the work they have truly performed, nor do they record the time they spent in the firm’s billing software. In essence, they give away free legal work.
Most law firms have some kind of a billable hour requirement or goals. If there was not a billable hour requirement, most law firms would not be able to project a certain level of cash flow. Without that cash flow, important obligations of the firm and the salaries and benefits of the employees cannot be paid.
The “not-so charitable lawyer” wants their full salary and benefits. At the same time, these not-so charitable lawyers often do not meet their billable hour requirements, they do not record the time they spend on client matters and they do not ensure that clients are keeping up with their invoices by making payment.
When questioned about the low productivity numbers, or high outstanding balances, the not-so charitable lawyer often retorts that they are being charitable (or they use other similar language) by not recording their time spent on client matters or by not seeking to collect payment. At the same time, if asked, these not-so charitable lawyers are almost always unwilling to donate a portion of their own salary to help the client who is obtaining free legal services.
What the not-so charitable lawyer wants is to receive their full salary and benefits from the firm. They just want to be able to give away free legal services to clients of their choice — even where the client is not indigent and was not accepted by the local pro bono entities (because their income was too high).
Again, giving back and being charitable is important for lawyers. But being charitable requires that a lawyer give something up to help others in need (either their time or their money). If a lawyer wants to do free legal work for non-indigent clients, but they want their full salary and benefits, the reality is they are not being charitable.
If you have not-so charitable lawyers in your law firm, it is important to talk with them. Are they able to see that giving away free legal work to non-indigent clients, while wanting their full salary and benefits, is not-charitable because they have not donated anything individually to an indigent person need? Instead, they are just negatively impacting the ability of the firm to meet their obligations and pay other employees.
Further, if the firm donates to varies charities and pro bono agencies for indigent individuals in need (as most law firms should), giving away free legal work to those who are not in need can hamper the ability of the firm to give money to pro bono agencies who provide free legal services to indigent individuals who are in need.