Philanthropists of Time

Faye Riva Cohen
November 16, 2012 — 840 views  


The word “philanthropist” was formerly reserved for a very few wealthy people like Walter Annenberg who donated to charitable or civic causes. Yet, every day I read or hear about someone who is referred to as a philanthropist by the media, or often refers to him/herself as a philanthropist.

So, how much does one have to contribute financially to charities or causes to become a legitimate philanthropist? Obviously there is not a set amount. Is someone who gives half of their income of $50,000 to charitable causes considered a philanthropist, and, if so, are they placed in the same category as someone who gives $1 million and earns a salary of $10 million? If that is the case, than the person earning less is a more generous philanthropist than the person who earns substantially more. Other considerations are whether one is donating money they have inherited or whether they are donating money they would have to pay toward taxes instead. If that is the case, perhaps we should consider the more sincere philanthropist to be the person who really wants to donate, and doesn’t do so just to save taxes. 

I read the other day that young people donate twice as much of their time to charitable causes as their elders. I think that has something to do with their elders having to spend most of their time earning money to support their children.

Another form of philanthropy is giving of one’s time, and in the case of lawyers, their time and advice. Although I contribute financially to charities, and the colleges I have attended will receive funds from my estate when I die, most of my philanthropy is and has been that of giving freely of my time and expertise to thousands of callers over the years.  If I were to place a monetary amount on my time and advice it would amount to many millions of dollars. Every day I listen to people’s stories and problems and try to guide them in a certain direction, educate them about their legal rights and possibilities, and open their eyes and minds so they can reach the best decisions for themselves based on their circumstances. Although I never give legal advice unless someone becomes a client, I do try and educate anyone who calls me about the law in general and their choices.   Sometimes people are in denial and don’t want to hear that their choices are limited under the law, that their choices are often limited by their finances, and that justice has limitations.

I am not alone in time philanthropy.  Most lawyers provide this service, and it is a service that many people think should be provided for free.  However, As Abraham Lincoln said, “a lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.”  I think lawyers are unique as they are giving of their time and expertise, quite often initially for free. Can you think of a doctor, dentist, accountant, or other professional who will listen to your story for free, at least for any length of time? Yet, people expect lawyers to give freely of their time. So, let’s applaud lawyers, many of whom are major time philanthropists, as they give of their time for the common good without charge.

Faye Riva Cohen

Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C.

I am Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire and am a Philadelphia attorney who has been practicing law since 1974. I am the president and managing attorney of both the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. and Legal Research, Inc.