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Doulas, and Lawyers, and Free Services, OH MY!


How are doulas and lawyers alike? Well, to be frank, they aren’t. And yet, doulas are compared to lawyers all the time. Specifically, they are compared to lawyers doing pro-bono work as a reason why doulas can and should do free or low cost birth. This seems to be the favourite comparison that proponents of free doulas like to make (although doctors and dentists get thrown in there a lot too). When people think of lawyers who do pro-bono work, they are typically thinking of litigation, no one expects real estate lawyers to give their services away for free. Well, as the wife of a litigator, I thought it was time to set the record straight.
1) Scale:

When doulas charge $250 an hour and no one bats an eyelash, doulas can consider doing pro-bono services for those who can’t afford it. But in an industry where many doulas still do not charge a living wage, giving away services is preventing them from building a sustainable business.

2) Accumulation:

When lawyers provide pro-bono services, their time is spread out. An hour or two a week, spread across a year, is easily absorbed financially. You will almost never find a lawyer who does 10, 20, or 30 hours of pro-bono work in a single week. While an exception would be a trial, most lawyers don’t go to trial nearly as often as the movies would have you believe. Most of the time, cases are settled out of court. Doulas however, can’t really support you without attending your birth (including remote support). Our hours are based on your labour, we can’t settle your birth out of court and therefore reduce the number of hours of support we provide.

3) Careers in Reverse

Many doulas, when they go through training and launch their careers, are told that they should provide free services to “gain experience”. The reverse is true for lawyers; the majority of their pro-bono work (if they do any) is done late in their career, close to retirement, when they have already made enough money to live comfortably. It is nearly impossible to build a long-term, sustainable business, when you aren’t earning an income.

4) Strength in Numbers

Most doulas work on their own, or in small agencies of less than 10 doulas. Sole practitioner lawyers almost never do pro-bono work; it’s usually done by mega-firms, with dozens of lawyers to spread the work around. Fifty hours of pro-bono work, spread across fifty lawyers, is a lot less of a burden than fifty hours of volunteer births on one doulas calendar.

5) Timing:

When lawyers do pro-bono work, it’s on their own schedule, subject to legal requirements. They aren’t called at 2:00AM to leave their warm, comfortable beds, and go finish writing a legal brief. Doulas are. We leave our families and our homes, in all kinds of weather, to get to our clients and support them through their special moment. Lawyers don’t spend weeks on call for their pro-bono clients. Our on call time is valuable.

You might be wondering why Toronto Family Doulas is publishing this post. Why do we think it is important for our clients to understand the conversations doulas have amongst themselves? We want you to know because when these comparisons are made between doulas, it filters out to you, our clients. We want you to know, that as professional doulas, we treat all our clients equally. We also make sure our doulas are paid a living wage, so that when they attend your birth, their focus is on YOU, not on how they will pay their bills.

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