We’ve all heard about the importance of doing pro bono work. But, as busy attorneys, how is it a “win-win” for us? How can it benefit the pro bono clients (which is fairly obvious) and benefit us professionally and personally (which is what we sometimes forget)?
Of course, doing pro bono work is a kind, good, and noble thing to do. We have skills as lawyers that can serve the good of those who could not otherwise afford legal services, and there are solid ethical imperatives and reasons for which to use some of our time providing pro bono representation.
Yet we can learn a great deal about ourselves as attorneys and individuals by taking the time to do pro bono.
The benefits generally fall into three categories:
We can’t learn everything in law school, and we won’t learn everything we need to know as new associates, at least not right away. No matter what your practice area or kind of legal employer, you can learn a significant amount by serving the needs of others through pro bono work.
Learn another practice area
If you tackle a case in a practice area outside of your typical one, you might just learn substantive skills that could create competence in a whole new area of law. Especially when you are doing pro bono work, your colleagues and peers are much more apt to support you and help you learn the ropes of an area you aren’t particularly familiar with but want to master for the benefit of your client.
Acquire practice and case management skills
There is so much to discover about being a practicing attorney that you can both learn and improve on by taking pro bono cases; you could learn professional interaction skills, case management and prioritization skills, organizational skills, and much more that you might not have had the chance to gain knowledge of on the job thus far in your career. Additionally, these type cases might give you litigation experience and skills that you haven’t been exposed to yet as a newer attorney. No matter what your practice area, improving your litigation and case management skills is never a bad thing.
Improve client relationship abilities
If you haven’t had a lot of direct interaction with clients, you might not have developed the strongest client communication and relationship development skills. Pro bono work allows you to have this one-on-one interaction which will likely lead to, among other things, improved skills in setting and managing client expectations, communicating effectively and consistently, and navigating client meetings.
Doing pro bono gets you out there into the community in a meaningful way. Through this kind of work, you will likely get to know a good number of people in the non-profit world, a world you might not get exposed to in other ways. While future clients might not come to you from the work or agency directly (though they could), you never know who you might meet that could later become a client or referral source for you. Imagine: you could connect with another attorney who is also doing pro bono work for the same agency and you become referral sources for each other. Or maybe your outstanding commitment and work catch the eye of a key board member or stakeholder in the agency who then refers you or your firm to their organization. Pro bono work is a terrific way to develop your client base and book of business.
Good, clean fun
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the billable hours and intensity of your regular, day-to-day work. When we do this, our sense of balance suffers which ultimately throws off our ability to perform at our best personally and professionally. Pro bono work allows us to learn something new while serving people who really need us and the work we are providing. Our firms generally like that we are doing it. It feels good. It’s meaningful. It reminds us that, at the end of the day, we as lawyers can and do make a positive difference in the lives of real people.