The Benefits of Volunteering for Pro Bono
By Steven J. Ellison, Esq. | Legally reviewed by Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last reviewed September 16, 2022
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You are busy. We know. It's hard enough to get in the billable hours required by your law firm. You have precious little time for your family, let alone the hobbies you may enjoy.
Yet, there are many reasons why, no matter how busy you might be, you should make time for pro bono projects. Not the least of which is that lawyers have a professional duty to volunteer at least some free or reduced-cost legal services to people in need. And the benefits of doing pro bono work are legion. We describe some of them below.
Development of Professional Skills
Pro bono work lets you explore areas of the law that you might not otherwise encounter. A transactional lawyer can get litigation experience. If, for example, you are a corporate transactions attorney, you might not ever get the chance to see a judge, let alone a jury. If you were to take on a pro bono client who needs help getting an order for protection against an abusive partner, you would be able to prepare a witness, present their testimony, and obtain (hopefully) a ruling that will make your client's life safer. That's worthwhile to both you and the client.
You can also get experience in different substantive legal areas. You may be a patent attorney, but always wondered what it would be like to help someone with an immigration issue. You might focus your practice on family law cases but thought you could make more of a difference working on landlord-tenant cases in housing court. Taking on a pro bono client lets you develop the experience you need to broaden your practice.
Lead Case Responsibility
Another benefit to being a pro bono volunteer is that you develop lead case experience early in your legal career. You may be a junior lawyer on a trial team who drafts the jury instructions, but you might not have the chance to actually get into the courtroom.
But if you take on a pro bono client, that becomes your case. You get to decide the strategy. You won't be just drafting jury instructions; you will be arguing to the judge which ones should be given. And you can try your own case before a jury. In fact, pro bono cases are a great way for a junior lawyer to get trial experience.
Direct Client Contact
At large law firms, junior lawyers may never even actually meet the client they are doing work for. They spend their time in the office, while more senior lawyers get the chance to meet with and develop relationships with clients (more on that below).
Taking on a pro bono case not only gives you ownership of the case. It establishes you as the lead client contact. You are the one who develops the close professional relationship with the client. You get to hear directly what those needs are, which invariably influences the advice you give. Having direct contact, where you can see the person you are helping, can make a pro bono experience that much more rewarding.
You also get to develop other professional relationships to flesh out your LinkedIn network. Pro bono work exposes you to the legal community at large (judges, other lawyers, paralegals, law students, etc.). This can vastly increase your network with other legal professionals. And the more people you know, the more people who can refer other clients to you.
Developing a large professional network can also enhance your professional reputation. As your career develops, that, in turn, helps with recruiting other lawyers and retaining them as employees.
Pro bono work can be a fruitful path to community leadership. If you are interested in public service, developing a reputation for helping people in need can only be an asset.
You can get credit for doing pro bono work. Many law firms with pro bono programs that set an hourly requirement for pro bono work will not hold you to that limit. Pro bono service is typically treated by employers the same way as work for which your firm is compensated.
In some states, a lawyer can get continuing legal education credit up to a limit for approved pro bono work that you do. You can contact your state bar association to get a list of approved pro bono organizations and to learn more.
Few things contribute to a sense of personal satisfaction more than pro bono work does. You may remember some of your paying clients, but you will never forget the people in need who you helped pro bono. Those are the stories that stick with you throughout your career.
Pro bono work also provides lawyers with a tangible opportunity to demonstrate their professional commitment to justice and equality. Most lawyers join the profession, at least in part, because they want to help people. Providing legal aid to low income people can go a long way to enhancing your sense of self-worth.
Looking for Pro Bono Opportunities?
Volunteer opportunities for volunteer lawyers are abundant. We give you places to check here. For now, there are many legal aid organizations (many carry malpractice insurance for volunteer attorneys who provide professional services) and pro bono providers that are desperately in need of pro bono assistance. Taproot Foundation is another resource. They connect volunteer attorneys to nonprofits in need of pro bono resources and legal advice.
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