Should I practice without pay?
October 3, 2012 5:19 PM   Subscribe

I've discovered through some digging that I can not pay (but still hold) practice insurance at my new bar and still practice as a lawyer if I'm not doing it for profit. WHO on earth would want to practice and not get paid? Maybe me.

I was a junior litigator, then I quit for personal reasons for a couple of years (love, a serious illness, foresight that I did not want to be with that firm forever and trucking along as an associate would have limited value, etc.). I don't regret this at all, I am really happy (and healthy) but now it's time to get back into building a career which happens to be in a totally different location where my network is limited but my slate is, in some ways, delightfully clean. (FWIW, I'm in Canada)

I love practice, I love helping people and figuring out files and the thrill of winning a complex file. I do not love the politics of an office, required firm socialization, or most other lawyers. The hiring process/search I'm going through now has reminded me of all the stuff I thought was time sucking fluff that I felt distracted me from getting on with the career I can clearly see for myself.

I'm thinking about solo-ing as I'm debt free, have a husband who can contribute to our fairly low household expenses, and am not yet 30. But, I sort of want to brush up my skill set and network a little before I sink a lot of cash into my own shop (even next year's practice insurance is a pretty big cheque to write for us right now). This has led me to consider whether I want to create my own 'legal internship' by working pro bono for a period of time while I maybe do another day job outside the industry to build cash flow and a non-law network. One foot in, one foot out, so to speak.

In my mind, this would help me transition either into solo practice by skill building and resource collecting without running at a loss, looking at a six month time frame to possibly transition to paying clients, OR it might just introduce me to the right legal job match (which, from experience, has tended to pop up for me as long as I keep circulating in the industry). I also don't mnd giving back because I feel like life has been good to me, using the degree for free is better than letting it languish, and I have found pro bono work consistently memorable and satisfying in the past.

Am I totally insane? Do people do this? Why not? Will 40 year old me regard this as a poor choice? Am I going to black-sheep myself by setting my salary at zero? Is there another way to move towards what I want (which is not necessarily working a lifetime of poverty law - plus those jobs take networking too)?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There was at least one study which concluded "Pay enough or not at all". I imagine that runs both ways. You are probably fine if you do it pro bono whereas you would probably be shooting yourself in the foot to charge too little. Pro bono says "big heart, high ideals". Low fees say "cheap, unskilled, not worth more".

I don't see a problem with it (though I am not a lawyer).
posted by Michele in California at 5:35 PM on October 3, 2012

Your situation cries out for a position as an associate, maybe part-time, in another's firm. You need an employer and, ideally, a mentor. That way, the bills (including malpractice insurance) are paid, and you focus on developing your skill set.
posted by yclipse at 6:02 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you were in the US, I'd recommend working for the Southern Poverty Law Center, or the Legal Aid Society.

Here's an interesting site in Ontario.

I like the idea of you working in a full-time job, but for the public good.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:24 AM on October 4, 2012

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