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January 23, 2017 Articles

Pro Bono: Develop Your Personal and Professional Abilities

Pro bono service provides opportunities for improving client interactions, extensive litigation training, and exposure to a wide range of practice areas.

By Lakisha Davis

Every attorney has weaknesses. Fortunately, there are several articles devoted to educating attorneys on things they can do to become better advocates. These articles generally encourage attorneys to do things such as read and write more, participate in continuing education, or attain formal training. Often missing from these articles, however, is an emphasis on performing pro bono or community service.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, reason to perform pro bono work is because there is a staggering need for legal services among low-income individuals and families. But, pro bono work also serves as a highly effective training tool. There are a myriad of ways in which pro bono work can be instrumental in the personal and professional development of any new attorney—this article discusses just a few.

Pro bono work often provides attorneys with the opportunity to participate in meaningful cases and to exercise their skills and independent judgment in the early stages of their careers. In a large-scale commercial litigation firm, client interaction is often a rare task for new attorneys and typically takes place among senior associates and partners. Pro bono work, on the other hand, affords new attorneys with opportunities to have immediate and substantial contact with the clients who will be directly impacted by the attorney's work. Through these interactions, new attorneys can improve their client-management and communication skills.

Pro bono service also affords new attorneys with opportunities to obtain extensive litigation training, which is rarely, if ever, attained by young associates in large law firms. For example, a pro bono attorney may be asked to represent a client in a case from start to finish. As a result, the attorney has a chance to participate in intake interviews, client counseling, factual and legal research, discovery, presuit investigations, negotiations, drafting pleadings, discovery, depositions, witness preparation, evidentiary hearings, trial advocacy, and in some instances, appellate work. By gaining exposure to all aspects of litigating a case, an associate attorney increases his or her odds of becoming lead counsel in future non–pro bono cases.

Attorneys who engage in pro bono work are also afforded the opportunity to go beyond the boundaries of their immediate and narrow expertise to gain knowledge and experience in a wide range of subject matters. For instance, if a solo practitioner wishes to shift to a different area of the law, pro bono work may allow him or her to assess whether it would be a good choice without making drastic changes to the structure of his or her firm.

The same benefit lies with newly minted attorneys who are uncertain about the area of law that they wish to pursue. Pro bono work allows law school graduates to dabble in different areas of the law, increasing their odds of finding the practice area that appeals to them most. Additionally, taking pro bono cases through a local legal aid program often provides malpractice coverage and mentorship, giving new attorneys resources and protections when taking their first cases.

By providing free legal services, attorneys can also find the kind of support, guidance, and confidence necessary to start their careers or build a practice. In addition, they are provided a platform from which they can build and maintain their professional reputations in the local community. Pro bono work takes attorneys outside the four walls of their law firms and into the broader community of the legal profession. New attorneys can learn to effectively network, and can ultimately gain exposure that will allow them to advance in their careers. These connections may lead to new business contacts, mentors, and friends working in a wide variety of areas within the legal profession. In fact, many pro bono programs often offer trainings, mentoring opportunities, and other events that will introduce these attorneys to one another. With these introductions come great networking opportunities that allow pro bono attorneys to develop not only professionally, but personally as well.

Attorneys can also attain professional and personal growth from providing nonlegal services. Nonlegal programs give attorneys the ability to engage in the community in a meaningful way. Attorneys can serve their communities by participating in a number of activities, including but not limited to mentoring, tutoring, or coaching the youth. Regardless of the service chosen, immersion in the local community can provide attorneys with the work-life balance necessary to relieve them of the everyday stresses of legal practice. After performing community services, attorneys generally return to work with a reset brain and fresh eyes. As a result, productivity increases and attorneys are less likely to burn out.

Nonlegal services, unlike legal services, may also provide attorneys with opportunities to meet people with very different backgrounds, allowing them expand their intellect and grow beyond the legal profession.

Whether an attorney is newly minted, starting his or her own law firm, or joining a firm, pro bono work can greatly enhance an attorney's personal and professional development by providing an invaluable set of skills and experiences. Most pro bono programs are aware of this and offer the training, support, and mentoring necessary for attorneys to both learn and succeed. 

Lakisha Davis – January 23, 2017