Although I usually practice antitrust law, I wanted to volunteer at the clinic because of how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the commercial real estate sector.
The clinic matched me with a small business owner whose company could not pay rent due to the shutdown. Although the company had spoken to its landlord, the parties could not agree upon any alternative arrangement because the landlord also had to consider its own financial obligations connected with the property.
As I dug into the matter, my pro bono work allowed me to expand my practice and gain exposure to a new area of law. After conducting research, I coordinated with the supervising real estate partner; he confirmed which of the terms in the lease and riders were helpful to the client and clarified how the client could use them. I then explained these options to the client, which, fortunately, included a way to terminate the lease without liability for future rent payments.
Without volunteering for the clinic, I likely would have never come across this type of matter.
I not only gained confidence by learning new skills and problem-solving in an area that was new to me, but I also felt fulfilled because I changed the life of a small business owner. Also, I connected with a partner at my firm with whom I likely would not have otherwise crossed paths.
As a young lawyer, one of the best things you can do to increase your confidence is to step out of your comfort zone and learn a new skill. When thinking about trying a new practice area, you should first ensure you will have access to an experienced supervisor, whether at your workplace or elsewhere. The key is having access to someone with experience in the area of law that you will be offering the client guidance. Although you can get started learning about a new area through research, sometimes the application of concepts is different in practice, making it necessary to consult with someone more familiar with the practice area before advising clients.
Pro bono work creates countless opportunities. In many settings, it is an opportunity for you to take on more responsibility at an earlier seniority level than is usually possible in paying client matters. There has always been a need for pro bono legal services, but COVID-19 has exacerbated that need. There are numerous opportunities for attorneys at any stage of their career to volunteer.
If you are interested in pro bono work, check out your state bar association website for a list of available opportunities. The American Bar Association website similarly compiles a list of available pro bono opportunities. If you are interested in the COVID Small Business Clinic, you can visit the Lawyers for Good Government website to learn if a clinic is available in your jurisdiction. No matter where you live or work, there is a pro bono program that needs your help.