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4 Key Tips to Starting a Low Bono Firm

By Jeffrey Leon

July 18, 2017

4 tips for handling low bono work while maintaining a profitable law firm.

For people who do not meet the income threshold for pro bono representation but can’t afford the typical attorney's fees, low bono representation is key to access to legal services.

But as an attorney, how do you successfully launch and manage a low bono firm? On July 6 the D.C. Bar’s Practice Management Advisory Service hosted “Low Bono for the Small Firm Lawyer,” presented by Marc Borbely of the D.C. Tenants’ Rights Center and Steven Krieger of Steven Krieger Law PLLC. Both attorneys shared their insights and advice on handling low bono work while maintaining a profitable law firm.

1) Unbundle your services: Allow clients to receive assistance on the specific things they need, such as providing a 20-minute phone consultation or preparing a document. Getting assistance on the one key thing they need—at a low cost—can be a major help.

2) Reduce your costs: Lower your salaries, use online technology suites like Google, and outsource work when you can to get your costs down.  

3) Build in a margin of error: Be selective when it comes to choosing cases and clients. The pitfalls are riskier as a small firm doing low bono work, and your returns from the case, such as fees paid, might be low or delayed.

4) Offer limited scope representation: Get a Limited Appearance form from the D.C. Courts. This form will allow you to notify the court about what you’re assisting the client with, how long you’ll be working with them, and other case details. This notice is a great way to define your role with your client and make the court aware.

Low bono representation is challenging but rewarding, and attorneys interested in this type of work need to be prepared. “If not for us, a lot of people feel like they wouldn’t have a lawyer,” Borbely said.

The program was part of the PMAS Small Firm Lunch and Learn Series, which explores topics of particular interest to members who are starting, managing, or growing law firms in the District of Columbia. Learn more about the upcoming programs in this series.