I received a phone call from a friend today. She left me a voicemail asking whether I knew a good family lawyer who could step into a difficult and disturbing case pronto. She was being sweet, reaching out to me on behalf of a friend and, knowing her as I do, that doesn't surprise me.
But (oh yes, there's always a 'but') she made the same request SO many people have made to me over the years when asking for a lawyer: "She doesn't have any money so I'm looking for someone to do it pro bono."
Now, here's the thing. Lawyers, like everyone, should volunteer either time or money to those less fortunate.
But I've noticed that the non-lawyer public seems to feel that if they or a friend is in a sticky situation, they should be able to get a lawyer to help them for free. It's as if by throwing the words 'pro bono' into the question, all is as it should be. And the stickier the situation, the free-er the representation should be.
And I don't get it. Truthfully, it shouldn't affect me because I work for the State and don't represent individuals (I save the world in a more general way). But so many criminal defense lawyers work themselves to a frazzle for very little money, very often for clients who pay nothing at all. I hear them complaining about it all the time (as they should).
But who else works for free? Oh, sure, lawyers can save someone from prison, can stop a child from being taken away, can. . . do all kinds of important stuff. And the immediacy and urgency seem to, frequently, be the reason for the pro bono request.
But imagine you're having a heart attack - would you call a heart surgeon and ask for a pro bono bypass? Or let's say your basement floods, would you phone Pete's 24-Hour Plumbing and ask for an immediate and pro bono patch up? No, of course not. In fact, put like that it sounds silly, doesn't it?
So why, do you think, are lawyers the frequent and only targets of the "will you work for free" request?