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The ABA suggests that attorneys provide 50 hours of pro bono legal services every year, but that can be a lot to ask of solo practitioners or those who work in small firms.
Many consider pro bono work as something that distracts them from their real goals in legal practice, not to mention taking up time that could be spent on paying clients. That can be true if you don't focus on pro bono opportunities that are related to your field. But pro bono isn't limited to a certain practice area.
People need help with all kinds of legal issues, and many can't afford to pay full fees. That means there are many opportunities to improve your skills and build your reputation while you help those in need. Here are a few ideas:
1. Look for opportunities that fulfill your needs too.
Pro bono opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want to find fulfilling work you have to look for it.
Most local bar associations have volunteer legal services programs that offer a wide range of services. Donating your time could also be a way to earn leadership positions in that organization.
2. Use pro bono work as a way to learn new skills.
If you're looking to expand your services, pro bono work is also a good way to learn new skills.
It can be hard to break into a new field is clients are looking for lawyers with "experience." But pro bono clients won't mind you learning on the job as long as you still get the work done well. Consider it training as well as donating your time.
3. Take advantage of the networking opportunities pro bono offers.
Highly experienced attorneys who are semi-retired participate in pro bono programs, and they're an invaluable resource for improving your practice. Doing pro bono work as part of a team is a more natural way to get someone's attention than trying to introduce yourself at an event.
Judges also look favorably on attorneys who provide pro bono services, since it means fewer pro se clients. If you're interested in a career on the bench, this could be a way to get noticed.
Pro bono is a good thing to do, but it doesn't have to be an end in itself. The "good deed" aspect of it isn't undone because you also realize it's a smart business opportunity.