YourABA November 2011 Masthead

Young lawyers: Pro bono can aid career advancement

How can pro bono improve one’s legal career?  How do pro bono opportunities vary given specific professional settings?  And where can a young lawyer look for pro bono opportunities?

These were among the issues addressed when a Young Lawyers Division-sponsored panel met for “Incorporating Pro Bono Into Your Career.”  Members of the panel represented a spectrum of lawyers:  Matt Potempa is a solo practitioner for the Law Office of Matt Potempa in Nashville; Joanna Plichta Boisen is pro bono counsel for Foster Pepper, PLLC, in Seattle; and Kimberly Todaro is managing attorney with the Family Law Mentor Program for the King County Bar Association in Seattle.

Pro bono can be attractive to lawyers who want to get experience, and find out what field they want to pursue, said Todaro.

Pro bono can be attractive to lawyers who want to get experience, and find out what field they want to pursue, especially in this economy, said Todaro.  As Potempa echoed later, “You can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job.”  Pro bono can give a young lawyer that experience.

Plichta Boisen explained that an attorney can align her skill set with her interests by taking on pro bono work.  Client management, case management, litigation and marketing are all skills that can be developed and honed through pro bono.  A young lawyer can also improve her communication skills; learn to manage client expectations; and become better adept at scheduling and running meetings with various stakeholders.   Plichta Boisen’s firm often asks young attorneys, “What are you passionate about?” and “What skill sets do you want to build on?” when they plan their volunteer or reduced pay projects.

In addition to developing concrete skills, pro bono can help a lawyer develop relationships with other lawyers, as well as raising his bono vides as a specialist or just as a really good lawyer, Potempa explained.  And Plichta Boisen said that a senior lawyer may not be able to take on a case himself, but he can help guide a younger lawyer with the case.  Matters that may be rote for a partner may provide just the kind of experience a young lawyer needs and desires. When doing such work, Todaro said that going through a bar association or legal aid group can further help a young lawyer through providing malpractice insurance that she may not be able to afford; or expertise or mentorship that she may not have had access to otherwise.   

Young lawyers focus service year on veterans

The Young Lawyers Division has launched “Project Salute: Young Lawyers Serving Veterans.” This 2011-2012 public service initiative features legal clinics throughout the country, educating veterans on their legal rights and assisting them in obtaining benefits.

The goal is to help as many veterans as possible in all 50 states.

For more information including guidance on signing up, please visit the Project Salute webpage.

In a large firm environment, a young associate taking on a matter pro bono may be able to showcase his skills to a partner with whom he might not otherwise have had an audience.   As a solo practitioner who must be aware of how much time he devotes to pro bono, Potempa is able to grow his client base by proving himself and through networking.  And of course for young lawyers who have not yet landed a position, pro bono may lead to a job through the exposure.  

Panelists reminded listeners to treat pro bono cases just as they would ones that are billable.  Professional rules still apply and a lawyer needs to be competent to handle the matter.

The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service is one source for finding out about pro bono opportunities, said Plichta Boisen.  Others include legal aid groups, state and local bar associations, university law school clinics and courts.   Colleagues can help as well, and friends and family can help identify need, leading to new pro bono projects. 

“Incorporating Pro Bono Into Your Career” was the September theme of the YLD’s Career Development Initiative, cosponsored by the ABA Career Center.  The initiative provides resources and programming focused on a different theme each month.  Future programming will include, but not be limited to:  “Expanding Your Practice Area and Transitioning Between Practice Areas,” “Academia: Becoming a Professor,” “Making Partner and Going In-House” and “Alternative Career Paths.”

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