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After the Bar

Public Service

Service Beyond the Bar: Tips for Taking the Lead to Address a Need

Ronald C Gilbert III

Service Beyond the Bar: Tips for Taking the Lead to Address a Need

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Part of recognizing our fortune is knowing when to help others find their own. Participating in a pro bono project or donating time to a local nonprofit are excellent ways to accomplish the same. Lawyers are uniquely equipped to provide a service. Redirecting that skill to impact the community often results in a reward that far exceeds the labor. I give back through The Bloom Project, Inc. and the Alpha Esquires of Indianapolis, mentoring organizations dedicated to preparing Indianapolis youth for college and careers. 

Experience Informs Purpose

Choosing a service project reminds me of the adage, “move with a purpose.” My experiences inform my purpose, as will yours. I knew I wanted to go to law school, but no one in my family attended college, and I did not know any lawyers, let alone any lawyers who looked like me—with only one exception—a lawyer who encouraged me to consider another profession. I do not fault that lawyer for trying to convince me otherwise.

At the time, I was serious about music. I think his rationale was in part due to his recognition of my promise as a violinist. At one point, I even began to consider violin performance instead of law. However, I thought long and hard about what I wanted in life, and I ultimately decided to heed the words of my father: “Finish what you start.” Still, I had no leaders to follow. I found my way, but I recognize the impact a mentor could have had on my life. Indeed, my experiences, while personal, resulted in my realization that there was a need. Kids of color need representation in all disciplines.

According to the American Bar Association, black attorneys make up around 5 percent of the legal profession. I thought about this statistic as one of my mentees shared his aspirations of attending law school. Following our conversation, I made it my obligation to be his representative. It was also a moment met with a revelation: my purpose involves helping young black boys grasp what is possible for their lives.

The Bloom Project and the Alpha Esquires

Accordingly, I volunteer with The Bloom Project and the Alpha Esquires by facilitating career exploration presentations, providing an adult perspective on various issues during monthly workshops, and general mentorship. For example, the Bloom Project, Inc. has three primary programs: Project King, the Kings Feast Symposium, and Royal MENtality (for which I am the program director).

Project King is a mentoring program that emphasizes group mentoring. Each mentee goes through a series of workshops designed to focus on character development, emotional intelligence, civics, and more.

The Kings Feast Symposium provides our male youth with exposure to various career and educational institutions, with the opportunity to meet professionals in law, medicine, engineering, and trade professions.

Finally, the Royal MENtality program is a career and college preparatory program designed to equip high school students with the workforce readiness skills, professional development, and academic support necessary for their post-secondary transition.

Align Opportunities with your Passions

Finding service opportunities that align with your purpose and passion fosters sustainable, worthwhile experiences. Service projects that trigger an emotional response will directly contribute to volunteer consistency. Increasing representation is my purpose, but the feeling that comes with being the representative fuels my passion. The best service projects are those that address a hardship that is personal to the volunteer.

When I think about my mentee, I think about giving him an opportunity that I did not have. In working with him, I am grateful. I am grateful for what is in store on his path to the legal profession—not just because he is accomplishing his goals to date, but because he is making genuine connections with people in the profession who are invested in his success. I was him eight years ago, and soon, he will be my colleague.

Find the Time

I know the problem with lawyering is time and the lack thereof. My advice is to find the time. A few hours can make a profound impact on someone’s life. With the two necessary ingredients in mind—purpose and passion—you can give a gift to others that you never received yourself.