It might seem like lawyers get the short end of the judiciary stick when they offer pro bono work. After all, how are you supposed to benefit from doing work for free? In a competitive economy where attorneys have to make every minute count, providing complimentary legal services can feel like a waste of valuable time and energy.
However, pro bono work is not entirely devoid of compensation. Voluntary no-charge legal services are a critical part of any litigator’s professional duties, no matter whether you’ve just passed the bar or you’ve run your own firm for years. The ABA even recommends that lawyers spend at least 50 hours a year delivering pro bono services for clients of reduced means. But why is that? What makes it so important for attorneys to offer their work as public service?
Pro bono work can touch nearly every part of your career, from your personal development to your community impact, making it a vital activity for anyone serious about the legal profession. Here are just a few elements that make pro bono work such a critical part of legal work.
Developing your professional skills
Young lawyers know the feeling all too well. After earning your J.D. and landing your first job at a law firm, your supervisors relegate you to busy work and mundane activities while the senior associates handle the major assignments. However, there is a silver lining to this situation. Firms often leave their low-priority pro bono projects to their less senior staff, providing an excellent opportunity to break out of the repetitive rut of minor work and gain genuine hands-on experience in the legal field.
Voluntary legal services may not demand a high asking price, but for all intents and purposes, they are still real-world legal tasks. Like any higher-profile paid work, pro bono services require lawyers to develop strategies, submit briefs, argue cases, and navigate delicate processes. While typically only the more established lawyers get to work on the most exciting or enriching cases, pro bono projects are available for lawyers of all skills and experience levels to address, providing ample opportunity to gain invaluable experience.
Complimentary legal projects might seem like a large amount of effort to put into a project without direct compensation, but you’ll reap the rewards in other ways. By developing new or existing skills through pro bono work, you’ll leap ahead of the competition as a versatile professional with a diverse toolbox of capabilities.
Cultivating diverse experiences
Even if you already have substantial professional expertise and experience handling significant cases, pro bono work can empower you to diversify your skillset. With many firms becoming increasingly specialized in recent years, requests for voluntary legal services often provide a welcome opportunity to pursue more varied projects beyond your typical duties.
Since pro bono work opportunities often arise via public job boards or announcements, they are open for lawyers of any background or specialty to take on and provide a welcome chance for some newfound challenge or enrichment on the job. For example, a family law attorney might handle an immigration case, or an IP lawyer could approach corporate law issues. The possibilities are nearly endless, and the rewards are just about as bountiful, too.
Not only can pro bono work add some much-needed variety to your routine, but by trying your hand at these more diverse cases, you’ll have a chance to cultivate more robust skill sets that you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. In the process, you’ll make yourself a more authoritative and well-rounded resource for your paying clients, affecting everything from your profits to your moment-to-moment productivity.
You’ll also find yourself able to connect with a diverse network of attorneys as you pursue pro bono work. After all, while you may interact with a relatively small circle of associates in your routine work experiences, taking on pro bono work in fields outside your typical area of expertise lets you meet legal professionals from other specializations. Networking is one of the secrets of becoming a successful lawyer, so using public service opportunities as a method to gain new professional connections can be just what you need to advance your career.
Serving your community and connecting to your clients
Lawyers do vital work for their communities in handling sensitive cases related to how their neighbors run their businesses, care for their families, and go about their daily lives. However, there’s no denying that legal services aren’t accessible to everyone. Hiring a lawyer can be an expensive task, one that far exceeds many people’s monthly budgets. You can get around this limitation by willingly providing your work to your community free of charge.
The simplest reason to make pro bono work a top priority in your practice is that it’s the right thing to do. People seeking out legal services typically aren’t in the most ideal situations, and in offering your services for free, you can lend a helping hand to serve your community directly – without any strings attached. You’ll show your community that you care about them, and in doing so, you’ll forge a deeper connection to your existing clients.
As you reinforce your connections to the community with your complimentary offerings, you’ll also forge a solid reputation in your area for delivering reliable and personable solutions to those who need them. During a time in history defined by social and economic upheaval and uncertainty, offering an accessible hand to help is a remarkable and much-needed gesture that can make a genuine, tangible impact in your clients’ lives. Many lawyers first enter their profession intending to make a difference, and with pro bono work, you’ll be able to do just that for your clients.
Incorporating pro bono work is important
Every penny counts, but that doesn’t mean that you should regard pro bono work as a low priority compared to paid opportunities. Instead, offering your services for free has innumerable benefits for your clients and professional development alike. If you’re still building your legal practice or looking for a way to shake up your established routine, pro bono opportunities deliver the exact chances you’re looking for.
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