The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct state that “every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay” and suggest that lawyers should aspire to perform at least (50) hours of pro bono services per year. Therefore, most law schools encourage their students to participate in pro bono projects – a habit that hopefully many people will carry forward as they transition into practice.
While helping the public good is an obvious reason to do pro bono work, there are other positive benefits from volunteering your time.
Diversification of Interests
Participating in pro bono projects oftentimes exposes you to areas of law that you may not have otherwise experienced. Maybe you want to pursue mergers and acquisitions in a corporate-focused law firm, but you have always liked immigration law. Working on pro bono projects that are not based on your main interest allow you to gain a better understanding of different areas of law and to engage with a field of attorneys who you may not have had other occasions to meet.
Additionally, diversifying your interests through pro bono opportunities is a great way to explore other areas of the law. And, for the sect of resume-minded students who are looking to become more well-rounded, it is also a great way to show future employers what your interests are in addition to your previous legal internships.
Networking and Community Involvement
Pro bono projects bring together diverse groups of people – both the attorneys who volunteer and the public in need of legal services. Volunteering to participate in a pro bono project – either a long-term one or one that lasts a single day – introduces you to many new people. I have participated in a few Wills for Seniors events and have met some fantastic attorneys each time. While their “day jobs” have focused on varied areas of law, everyone who volunteered shared a common interest: a desire to help people.
Wills are not the most exciting legal documents, especially boilerplate, unmodified ones, so spending 3 hours with an attorney you don’t know creating wills for senior citizens may not seem like everyone’s cup of tea. However, whether you like wills or not, participating in a Wills for Seniors (or Veterans, etc) event is a great experience. You will get to network with attorneys from varied backgrounds, who through this opportunity have become part of your legal network (get a business card and follow up!), and you will get to know a few people who are in the community.
The neat stories that the seniors share while I’m filling out forms for them is the real reason why I keep volunteering.
Practical Experience and Research Skills
Depending on the pro bono project you volunteer for, you can further develop or gain a new set of legal skills. Participating in a pro bono project is a great practical application of the legal skills you have learned either in your classes or through your work experience. Working on research skills can’t be stressed enough in law school. So much of what many people will do after graduation involves performing research.
Pro bono opportunities are a perfect opportunity to work on research skills but in an area of law that you find interesting. I like veterans law and immigration law, so I’ve volunteered for pro bono projects in those areas so that I can research topics that I otherwise would not be able to.
Also, depending on the type of law the project relates to and the scope of the work you’re doing, you can gain writing samples that you could use for applications or references from your supervising attorneys.