In the current of law school and legal practice it can be easy to become wound up in your world. For law students it is classes, tests, keeping up and trying not to fall behind. And for working J.D., it is doing your job and balancing in life's demands that keep the spotlight focused on you. But the practice we are part of asks more from us than we may ask of ourselves. In fact, the American Bar Association encourages law students and attorneys to invest their time and skills to causes beyond themselves, suggesting that lawyers engage in 50 hours of pro bono legal work per year.
So why should you pro bono?
1. There's No "I" in Law. That's right, you didn't get to this point all on your own and you shouldn't expect to live the life of law in a bubble. Think of yourself as part of a greater legal community, one that not only enjoys the privilege of its training and trade but also bears the weight of responsibility on its shoulders. You practice law not for your advancement but, to some degree at least, for the advancement of the practice and those it was created to protect.
2. To Connect. Beyond the hallways of law school and the corridors of law practice, there are millions of people who are largely disconnected from the law. Some have never met a lawyer, others avoid one even when they have a legal issue. By reaching out to disparate populations, you allow yourself to connect and see law not through the eyes of those within the legal community but through the lens of those looking from afar. And in turn, you avail the practice of law to those who judge it from a distance.
3. To Serve. The line of President Kennedy "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" inspired a generation to serve...And if his words echo from decades past, consider the call of his contemporary, President Obama "However long we are keepers of the public trust we should never forget that we are here as public servants and public service is a privilege...Public service is, simply and absolutely, about advancing the interests of Americans."
4. To Learn. Just as any exchange, pro bono legal work is a two-way street. And while you may enter the scene with the belief that you have skills to offer, you may soon realize that you are also on the receiving end of knowledge, experience, and exposure to unique legal scenarios. Use the opportunity to learn through practice and engagement in legal research.
5. To Remember. Why did you go into law? Whether it was in pursuit of green or of equality for all, the beauty of pro bono work is that you can make it the focus of your legal career or you can balance it with your existing practice. When the field surprises, frustrates, or disappoints turn to volunteering as a way to recharge and remember why you do it.
- Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service (American Bar Association)