By Brandi Davis
Brandi Davis is a law fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Tampa, Florida. She can be contacted at
Now that it is summer, many of us are planning to escape the office for a few days or weeks of vacation. Or perhaps, you’d like to use some vacation time to look into a career transition. Either way, it is the perfect time to take advantage of travel opportunities that allow you to improve and share your legal skills, develop new skills, and perhaps even change your life.
International volunteer programs
While many international volunteer programs let you volunteer abroad for a short time, few tap into the legal skills of attorneys. Two examples of programs that allow young lawyers to use their legal skills are Lawyers Without Borders (LWOB) and the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative (ROLI).
Lawyers Without Borders’ founder Christina Storm began the organization after her own search for international pro bono opportunities proved futile. Now LWOB provides young attorneys the opportunity to engage in activities such as community outreach, data gathering, trial observation, or assessments in foreign countries.
LWOB’s international opportunities can last anywhere from two weeks to several months, in places such as Rwanda, Cameroon, Mozambique, Liberia, Kenya, and Uganda. Even though LWOB provides information and guidance beforehand, volunteer lawyers must be self-funded and self-directed as they must complete their assignment independently in most countries.
ROLI also seeks energetic self-starters to provide technical assistance in foreign nations. An ABA public service project dedicated to promoting the rule of law around the world, ROLI is active in more than forty countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin American, and Europe. With international posts lasting from three to twelve months, ROLI offers different opportunities based on lawyers’ levels of experience. Lawyers with at least five years of legal experience can serve as pro bono legal specialists, while lawyers with less experience can apply to be legal analysts or legal interns.
While working with ROLI, lawyers not only provide valuable services to communities, they also can develop unique skills applicable to their legal careers. Participants can develop advocacy, clinical, management, cross-cultural communication, and administrative skills during their work.
Switching vocations
If more legal work is the last thing you want to do on vacation, you can use your summer travel to try out a nonlegal job. Whether you are thinking of switching fields entirely or just immersing yourself in an industry by going in-house, Vocation Vacations gives vacationers an inside look at “dream jobs” with no commitment required by placing them with a mentor for two to three days of hands-on career experience.
With 175 different jobs to try, young lawyers can experience anything from being a cattle rancher to fashion stylist to nonprofit director. Vocation Vacations also provides one-on-one career counseling to help vacationers develop a career plan should they want to make a transition.
Reflecting on his vocation vacation of writing country music with music writer Thom Shepherd in Nashville, attorney Greg Rocca of Albuquerque, New Mexico, said that “it was a good experience to see what others do on their jobs.”
He added that “my mentor was extremely nice and extremely helpful, and the whole experience was a lot of fun.”
These three opportunities are but a few examples of how you can use time off to better the world or yourself. Such experiences can even provide a career boost.
“The key to business and career development is to be interesting,” says Ari Kaplan, the principal of the career and business development consulting firm of Ari Kaplan Advisors. “When you are interesting, you are memorable. When you are memorable, opportunities will follow.”
Whether you choose to do international pro bono work or try a completely new field, you will finally have a great answer to the question “What did you do over your summer vacation?”
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