However, I also believe that there are times when it’s inappropriate or unwise to take on pro bono clients. If you’re experiencing any of the situations below, it might be best to refrain from pro bono work for the time being.

#1   You’re biting off more than you can chew.
If you’re running your own law firm, don’t consider pro bono requests until you’ve reached business profitability and stability. It does no one any good if your firm goes under because of financial woes; least of all your pro bono clients. Similarly, don’t accept pro bono clients if you already feel like you’re in over your head with paying clients. Pro bono work is admirable and can make you feel happier and more fulfilled, but only if you truly have the time to take it on. Otherwise, you’ll just make yourself miserable.

#2   You don’t feel invested in the work.
Don’t take on pro bono work that doesn’t interest you. If you do, it will probably begin to feel like a chore, and you’re likely to wind up regretting and/or resenting it. There’s a plethora of pro bono options out there, so don’t just take the first thing that comes along. Find work for an issue or cause that you actually care about; that way the work will feel more meaningful to you.

#3   Your services aren’t appreciated or valued.
If you feel like your pro bono work isn’t appreciated or that you are being taken advantage of, it’s probably time to stop. While doing pro bono work is an important part of the legal field, having your services undervalued is not. Before making any drastic decisions, have a conversation with the client or organization you’re working for to see if the situation can be improved. If the feeling persists that your work is not respected, don’t feel guilty if you decide to leave.

#4   It’s taking a toll on you, the client, or the firm.
This point basically touches on all the previous ones. If for any reason your pro bono work starts to take a toll on you, the client, or the firm, it’s time to stop. This can be anything from being overwhelmed to providing subpar services because you’re not invested in the work. Everyone deserves the best possible pro bono experience, and if that’s not what’s happening during a given situation, it may be in everyone’s best interest to find an alternative solution.

These points are not meant to discourage you from taking on pro bono work. They are simply guides to the “whens” and “whats” of accepting such work. I hope that you choose to offer pro bono services to causes that interest you; when you do, though, it’s critically important to have the time to do it.

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