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3 Ways to Turn a Volunteer Legal Gig Into Paying Work

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

Whether you're a new attorney who's just found nonprofit work or a seasoned associate looking for something new, nonprofit legal services can provide a break if you spend your day on M&As.

And if M&As were never really your thing to begin with, volunteering could lead to a paying job if you eat your peas and say your prayers. Note, however, that you shouldn't walk into a volunteer gig expecting a paying job out of it. Show them that you do go work, though, and it could be in your future.

Here are three ways you may be able to turn a volunteer legal gig into paying work:

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1. Be Enthusiastic.

It doesn't help anyone if you're interested in the nonprofit's mission, so pick something that interests you. You can also try to leverage skills you had in a time long before you became a lawyer. Were you an artist in your prior life? Like animals? Even if all you have is some accounting experience, there are plenty of nonprofit organizations that can use your particular set of skills.

2. Join an Outside Panel.

Many nonprofit legal organizations have outside panels as well as staff attorneys. No guarantees here, but after one or two initial pro bono cases, organizations may pay for panel work. It's usually not a whole lot, but it can augment your day job, and if your day job isn't all that meaningful, then outside panel work can improve your quality of life.

There's also room for professional development on panels, where you're usually paired with an experienced staff attorney as a mentor. Mentors not only shepherd you through the organization's own processes, but provide guidance in new fields of law you may not be all that experienced in. General practice organizations, like those that help low-income clients, give you great exposure to lots of different areas of law.

3. Become Involved.

As a rule, if you want the staff of a nonprofit organization to notice you, then you'll need to become more involved in the organization. This includes everything from ad hoc projects to fundraising (which isn't always the most glamorous, but which is something nonprofits always need) to joining a committee.

In addition to providing skills that are readily transferable elsewhere, becoming more involved is your gateway to more face-time with staff members and officers. That means that if a position opens up, they may be more likely to think of you instead of going outside the organization.

No, volunteering isn't certain to lead to a paid position, but at the very least, it's good for your spirit and your career.

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