As lawyers, we have the ability to make a tremendous difference in our communities and our own practices by volunteering. There are many great programs with varying needs and flexible time commitments that are available to young lawyers. So, where should you start?
Alma Mater Opportunities
One popular option is your alma mater for undergraduate studies or law school. Generally, alumni offices have committees and boards that you can join; some even have alumni interview programs, which give you the experience of interviewing applicants who are considering the schools.
These programs let you stay in touch with former fellow students who may become a client, colleague, or employer in the future. They may also result in introductions to the judiciary. Volunteering or serving on the board of your law school alumni association also helps you learn about developments in your local legal community.
Community Program Options
Think outside the box about community programs. For example, look at organizations that are connected with the local homeless shelter, foster children, the elderly, Habitat for Humanity, the environment, or animal shelters. Do they have hands-on volunteer opportunities, boards of directors, or even boards for young leaders that would give you the opportunity to work your way up?
A few hours outside the office working in the community can reduce stress and help you stay involved and passionate about things that are important to you. Helping others may also remind you of your significant achievements in finishing law school and practicing law. It is genuinely difficult to be upset if there is an engaged child seeking your attention or a puppy licking your face.
Pro Bono Programs
If you want to do pro bono legal work, you can contact the local bar association, court pro bono programs, or legal aid / legal services programs to see what their needs are. You can volunteer at weekly walk-in clinics, which could mean a few hours a month or a year and do not require any involvement outside the initial consultation. Alternatively, if there is an area that you specialize in or one that you have an interest in exploring, you can take a case and represent a person who might not be able to afford an attorney otherwise.
Usually, such pro bono projects provide guidance for young attorneys, including pairing you with a more experienced attorney. This is a great way to expand your skills while making a difference in someone’s life.
Many firms also have pro bono or community service programs. The types of matters are usually diverse. Some people try to take cases that remind them of a law school clinic they loved or that allow them to help a specific population, such as children. These programs provide exciting opportunities to work on major cases or smaller matters and be exposed to experiences that you otherwise may not have for years. For example, you may be able appear in court and take depositions during your first year of practice. Or you may be able to negotiate and finalize a contract or analyze health-care regulations and draft new ones. The projects that these programs offer are also a great way to network within your firm, often offering opportunities to meet people in different offices and practice groups.
Bar Association Networks
Consider your local or state bar associations. Many bar associations have committees that you can join to meet other practitioners in the area, stay involved in recent developments in the law, and learn leadership skills as you plan events. They also have local boards that you can join, which can help you develop your community reputation as you work your way up the leadership chain. In addition to social events, many bar associations offer opportunities to help the community by assisting with weekend events and holiday toy or food drives or judging mock trials for students.
And do not forget about the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA has an extensive network of young lawyer programs and committees, including those offered through its Young Lawyers Division. Additionally, there are numerous ways to get involved with ABA programs on a national level through sections such as litigation and business. The ABA Section of Litigation has a Young Advocates Committee that specifically focuses on addressing the needs of young lawyers (lawyers in their first ten years of practice). Getting involved with such a committee can provide you with a platform for networking, leadership positions, and a host of other opportunities to help further your career. Furthermore, ABA involvement can include writing articles and planning and participating in programming, including at conventions in great cities. Through all of these options, you will strengthen your personal brand as an attorney and meet great friends and potential mentors along the way.
The hardest part of volunteering is choosing whom you want to help and then getting out there. You will find, though, that volunteering will benefit you and your career: in addition to the satisfaction of helping others, volunteering provides leadership skills, networking opportunities, and a break from the stress of practicing law. So, whether you have a few hours a year or a few hours a week, get out of the office and enrich your life and the lives of others by volunteering in the community.
Stephanie L. Carman is an attorney with Hogan Lovells in Miami, Florida.