I’m sorry, but I can’t take it anymore. This is the fifth time in three weeks I’ve received (and—yes, fine, I’ll admit it, deleted without opening) the “Urgent Pro Bono Staffing: Please read!” email from Mr. Of Counsel, who is tasked with harassing everyone in the firm about taking on pro bono work. Call me heartless, call me a horrible person, an obnoxious, selfish little snot, but I’ll go ahead and say it: I hate pro bono.
I just can’t understand why BigLaw associates are constantly guilt-tripped into not only having to care about this nonprofit, Skid Row crap, but also having to spend time working on it, for no credit. No other professionals are strong-armed into doing random work for people who can’t pay out of some outdated sense of noblesse oblige, so why are lawyers? Because we get paid pretty well? Please. Know any i-bankers who’ve clocked a few hundred pro bono hours selling bonds for asylum refugees recently? What about your friendly neighborhood hedge fund manager, cosmetic surgeon, or real-estate developer?
Not to mention, if I was so hell-bent on doing so-called meaningful work for underprivileged clients, why would I be working at a big firm? I know, I know. The firm says its attorneys have access to so many resources that we’re under a “professional obligation” to give back to the community. Enough with the resources bit. You know who else has resources? The government. Let them worry about the community. Because, I hate to break it to the powers that be at the firm, but your main resources are us. As in: the associate hamsters who keep the billable-hours wheel churning out plenty of cash to pour back into your and, yes, our pockets.
And please spare me the routine about how pro bono hours are just as good as client billable hours and count fully toward partnership. They don’t. Who do you think has a better shot at making partner: the guy who billed 1300 hours on a multibillion-dollar merger that earned the Firm a $19 million fee, or the guy who racked up 1300 pro bono hours drafting bylaws for every nonprofit soup kitchen in Queens? Sure, you’ll see the latter’s face on all the firm’s recruiting brochures, representing its highly prized commitment to pro bono work—you just won’t see him at the annual partners’ meeting.
So, there it is. I’m not against providing free legal services to people who can’t afford to pay (hell, I couldn’t afford my firm if I needed them); I’m just against being forced to do it. So, let’s strike a compromise, OK, BigLaw? You set up a system in which I don’t need to bill at least 2000 hours a year to not get fired, no less get a bonus to pay off the thousands of dollars of debt I still have from law school, and I’ll clock all the count-for-nothing pro bono hours you want. Until then, please stop pretending that we’re all humanitarians and just let me rack up those billables working on zillion-dollar deals for the biggest, baddest, richest clients in the universe without feeling like I’m some sort of ungrateful cretin. That’s why I came here in the first place.
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