OK, I know I totally missed the boat on this post–National Pro Bono Week was two weeks ago. I was too distracted by Halloween to notice, but I have been thinking about writing this post for awhile. Better late than never, so here we go!
Doing pro bono work is good for the community and your bottom line. Law school taught us that we have a professional responsibility to give back and to promote professional goodwill toward lawyers. But, this post is not about the warm fuzzy feeling you get from helping people. Instead, I want to explain how volunteering can help your practice in substantial ways.
Pro bono work helps you network, gets your name out, and allows you to develop valuable work and client experience. When you sign-up to volunteer, you will meet other lawyers that practice different areas of the law, which is valuable for professional development and referrals. Many pro bono programs also offer trainings, mentoring opportunities, and other events that will introduce you to local attorneys.
When you volunteer your legal services, you may receive recognition from the non-profit organization and possibly even nominations for awards. However, if a non-profit organization does provide you with a testimonial or endorsement, be sure that you are familiar with your state’s attorney advertising rules before including such on your law firm website or law blog.
Most importantly, you will gain valuable legal expertise by practicing in new areas of the law, appearing before different tribunals, and interacting with new and different clients. If you are in-house or doing transactional work, for instance, a pro bono opportunity may offer you a rare chance to appear in court or interview and talk with clients.
Besides, in this economy, clients might be a little harder to come by. If you pick up a few pro bono cases, you might be able to increase your experience and get some wins under your belt. Maybe if your clients want to thank you, you can ask them to do it publicly on Avvo, where others can see it.
You can easily find pro bono opportunities. Local bar associations often have well-established and organized pro bono programs. Non-profits run legal referral panels that allow attorneys to take cases in their areas of expertise. Or, you might consider other volunteer service areas for attorneys, such as serving on a non-profit board, joining state or local bar committees, or mentoring at-risk kids.
I know this reads like a public service announcement from the state bar. But, you should realize that pro bono representation benefits you, the attorney, in addition to the whole “helping fellow humans” thing. I truly believe that everyone wins when a lawyer donates time and expertise to someone who otherwise has no access to it: the justice system (all parties represented means a fair shake), the attorney (for all of the above) and the client (who receives help).
Enough preaching. Check out these resources to help you get started:
Sample Pro Bono Retainer Agreement on JD Supra [I used this to draft my own]