Over the years, I’ve talked to countless in-house counsel who set aside time to take on pro bono projects—and, not coincidentally, these lawyers tend to be the most satisfied (and successful) in their careers.
Sure, pro bono work feels good. Helping people who are unable to afford legal services they may desperately need—such as writing a will, fighting an eviction or foreclosure proceeding, or handling complicated immigration paperwork, to name a few—is something most lawyers enter law school assuming they would do. But when “life happens,” it’s easy to put pro bono work on the back burner.
In the past several years, however, many corporate law departments have been incorporating official pro bono programs, which make these opportunities easily available to their lawyers. Dell Inc., Verizon Communications and The Clorox Co. have all been honored in recent years by the ACC for their pro bono programs. Sometimes law departments will partner with their outside counsel on pro bono efforts. Big law firms—such as Covington & Burling, Jenner & Block and Arnold & Porter—have also received accolades in the name of pro bono.
Beyond helping people in need, pro bono work offers lawyers additional benefits that go a long way toward career advancement.
Consider this; pro bono work:
1. Enhances your skill set.
Most often, the opportunities for legal work lawyers can practice while handling pro bono work is outside their day-to-day responsibilities. With plenty of pro bono work available for the taking, lawyers can pick and choose areas where they would like to enhance their skill sets and volunteer accordingly—boosting their resume with more diverse legal experience.
2. Builds relationships.
Whether a lawyer has the opportunity to volunteer in his legal department’s organized pro bono program or actively seeks out the work independently, he will meet other like-minded lawyers in the process. Law firms and corporate legal departments often partner with each other and nonprofit organizations, such as Corporate Pro Bono, to create and run legal clinics—offering an excellent networking opportunity that pales in comparison to that pre-conference cocktail party.
3. Demonstrates leadership.
When a lawyer takes the initiative—and time out of her life—to take on a pro bono project, she leads by example and earns another level of respect from the other professionals around her—supervisors and subordinates alike—for her commitment to the community.
If your law department doesn’t have a formal pro bono program in place and you are inspired to potentially start one, the ABA offers this terrific guide for doing so.
While the purpose of pro bono work is to help those in need who otherwise wouldn’t have access to legal services, it’s important to understand the big picture. Pro bono is just as rewarding to the practicing lawyer, as it is to the person he’s representing.