This post is by Nora Rock, corporate writer and policy analyst at LAWPRO
Pro bono work is something nearly every lawyer does occasionally. Here’s one practical tip for avoiding some pro bono pitfalls: open a file for every matter you handle.
By “open a file”, we mean treat the work like you would any other work. Run a conflicts check; diarize deadlines; document the client’s instructions, your advice and the steps you take; and docket your time (even if you won’t bill it).
Treating an “off-books” matter like any other case makes it less likely that you will skip steps, overlook conflicts or deadlines, or fail to take the notes that may protect you should the matter lead to a claim. Nobody wants to land in hot water over legal work done as a favour and without compensation. While you likely take just as much care with your off-books work as with your billed work, a well-documented file and regular file-handling procedures serve as objective evidence of that care in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. It’s worth the trouble, and can help you quantify the proportion of your time spent working pro bono.