Pro bono work as an effective attorney wellness tool

White man with glasses and brown beard sitting at table talking to a man and woman

Ask an attorney why they wanted to become a lawyer and a common response is, “I wanted to help people.” Day to day, however, many attorneys spend their time on tasks that don’t seem to fulfill that dream—at least, not in the way they imagined it would as an idealistic law student.

For many lawyers, pro bono work can restore the belief that they’re contributing to the greater good. Those positive feelings, in turn, advance attorney well-being. If you need further proof that a pro bono program can benefit overall wellness, regardless of your firm’s size, consider the following five key benefits that pro bono work can provide.

1) Rejuvenate optimism

It’s hard to skim the headlines these days and not get down about the state of certain things. Many attorneys who participate in pro bono work agree that doing so helps them feel like they’re contributing to something larger than themselves. This in turn can increase mental resilience and the ability to bounce back quicker from sad or negative experiences. If pro bono work can recharge someone’s battery, so to speak, engaging in this work can be an effective way to positively boost overall morale.

2) Keep things fresh

Anyone with a job can tell you that doing the same exact type of work over and over for too long can be draining. Pro bono work provides lawyers the opportunity to practice in an area of law that is outside their normal everyday practice. Having this variety can help attorneys gain new skills or exercise rarely used ones. Because it provides attorneys the opportunity to try something new, pro bono work may reduce burnout and job dissatisfaction.

3) Encourage a sense of professional belonging

The American Bar Association strongly recommends that every attorney contribute 50 hours of pro bono work per year. Many state bar associations have special honor roll-type recognitions for lawyers who meet or exceed this threshold. Performing pro bono work—and being recognized for it—can aid a sense of community or belonging. That’s valuable in a profession where it’s all too easy to hunch over a computer all day and, maybe without even realizing it, wind up feeling isolated.

4) Form new connections

When an attorney takes on a pro bono project, they not only meet the client, but also a supervising attorney. Additionally, pro bono work that involves organizations or other attorneys working on similar projects, provides opportunities to form new professional and personal relationships. In this way, pro bono work can help broaden an attorney’s social and professional circles—enforcing feelings of belonging and contentment.

5) Promote engagement and re-commitment

Feelings of job dissatisfaction and burnout are not universally experienced by all attorneys. However, the longer an attorney practices, the more likely they are to eventually experience one or the other. Pro bono work provides a break from the norm and can be viewed as the metaphorical breath of fresh air some attorneys need. The mental break pro bono work can offer may translate to a newfound sense of connection and re-commitment to “normal” work.

At the end of the day, pro bono work is a significant positive, and not just for the client receiving free legal services. If your small law firm is having a conversation about lawyer wellness, it’s wise to include pro bono work in that discussion.

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