Volunteering Outside of the Legal Profession

Shayla Peel
Consider serving on a board for a local organization or nonprofit, such as an animal shelter or a recycling committee.

Consider serving on a board for a local organization or nonprofit, such as an animal shelter or a recycling committee.

max-kegfire via iStock

When we first begin our legal careers, it is easy for us to allow our jobs to consume our lives. At the same time, as we are trying to carve out a niche in a growing and competitive field, we are powering through late nights, attending numerous networking events, and joining multiple clubs and chapters. While volunteering outside of the long hours we already put in can seem daunting, there are many ways it can help us become better people and attorneys. Taking a break from the grind of our jobs to give back to the community can significantly impact our personal and professional lives.

Volunteer Opportunities

Many volunteer opportunities in every community may have no apparent legal connection but can significantly benefit from having an attorney collaborator. For example, I participate on the board for a local nonprofit, the Idaho Anti Trafficking Coalition (IATC). The mission of IATC is to provide awareness, education, services, and safe housing for victims of human trafficking. As a board member, I am part of the review body that evaluates and approves finances, new hires, new policies, and salary increases for employees.

Professional Experience

Professionally, this experience has provided a unique opportunity to further my education about human trafficking and help me educate others. This subject is adjacent to my practice of pro bono work with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, but it has completely different components than what I usually encounter at work. Serving survivors of trafficking involves communication and collaboration with various law enforcement agencies across state lines and nationwide that I do not experience in my everyday practice.

On the administrative side, being a member of the board means I’m part of organizational finances, grant compliance, and the overall business side of an organization. My involvement also provides me with unique networking opportunities as I attend statewide events in my capacity as a board member. The experience has brought more awareness regarding trafficking to my firm and has benefitted us by translating to offering targeted legal services to survivors of human trafficking. Even in a nonlegal capacity, volunteering in the community can allow you to help people and open up doors for practice areas you may not have considered in the past.

Personal Fulfilment

In working with the IATC, the work and opportunities have been gratifying personally and allowed me to be a part of an organization with an inspiring mission serving one of the most vulnerable populations in my community. The personal and professional benefits are well worth the time, effort, and energy.

How to Get Involved

Although my volunteer activities are valuable and unique in their own way to my community and me, it is essential to encourage more volunteers in our communities outside the legal field. I was lucky because the director of IATC knew me through my legal practice and asked if I might be interested in serving on their board. However, this is an excellent example of how professional relationships can also lead to volunteer opportunities.

There are also many other opportunities; local women and children’s shelters are great places to start. In the Boise area, we have many volunteer opportunities at the Women and Children’s Alliance. There are similar organizations all over the country; one place to look is the National Domestic Violence Hotline to find domestic violence advocacy groups in your state. RAINN also has a great “Get Involved” section with volunteer opportunities to help survivors of sexual violence. Many opportunities exist outside domestic and sexual violence as well.

Volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter once a week is a minimal time commitment with a significant impact. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has a list of shelters and food pantries you can use to find one in your area. You may also consider serving on a board for a local organization or nonprofit, such as an animal shelter, recycling committee, or local government. These are great ways to give back and obtain unique experiences that may transfer over into your profession.

Taking time to volunteer outside of the legal profession can be a healthy, productive way to have a break from the wear of our profession while still benefiting your professional life. More than ever, we need to take care of ourselves and our communities.

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Shayla Peel is an attorney at Idaho Legal Aid Services in the Boise office.