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Changing your life with pro bono work

I have been suffering through an identity/lifestyle crisis as of late. As I make my declaration in this overly dramatic fashion, I am completely aware that there are so many people out there in the world who have really important things to worry about compared to me. I have a good job, good home, great family and friends and two of the best dogs ever to keep me company through everything.

However, I feel like I can do much better in all of those spheres in my life. I believe you have to right yourself in order to help others effectively, but I did want to put a disclaimer out there just in case people wanted to leave comments about my ungrateful attitude.

I read earlier this week about two law firms named Pro Bono Firms of 2011 by Law360. I was impressed by both firm’s objectives of making pro bono practice equal to all other practice groups in their offices. While my firm offers pro bono opportunities to its attorneys, they are not as widespread.

Reading about all of these lawyers’ pro bono work made me think: What have I done in the last year since entering the practice of law? I think I’m having a junior associate “I have been practicing for one year, but I still feel like I have accomplished nothing in my life” crisis. I feel stressed all the time for no reason.

A sedentary workday encourages my body to add weight despite the fact my work schedule has not been overly chaotic. I face each day’s end feeling too tired to exercise. After each week starts up again, I try to check off all the productive tasks I accomplished — only to be left with nothing outstanding that I have done.Every week seems eerily similar to the last one — eat, work, eat, sleep — and then Friday arrives and you go out with friends, recover and then suddenly the weekend is over.

So, this Monday, I decided it was time for a change.

I am slowly going to take steps to makeover my life and get involved in activities I have wanted to participate in for some time: fitness, hobbies, philanthropy, leadership opportunities, and plain old education (not the “pay more money for a degree” kind, but more like the CLE kind).

Young lawyers struggle for balance in so many aspects of life. I posted last month about the importance of wellness and staying fit. Heather posted a few weeks ago about the importance of giving time to your community. She made a very important statement regarding the positive impact these volunteer activities can have on yourself and others:

A young lawyer gains a network that is no longer limited to lawyers and a perspective that encompasses more than just the law. For example, by serving on a board, I can offer it a legal perspective while also gaining insight into the internal operations of an organization, which translates into a better understanding of the business interests at stake in my work as an attorney.

My dream has always been to serve on a board for an animal rescue or non-profit organization that deals with animals.

I want to put the question out there to all lawyers, junior, senior, or otherwise. What is the best advice you can give an attorney who wants to pursue pro bono at a law firm that seems to have a somewhat closed approach to the opportunities? Have you investigated pro bono opportunities on your own? What small steps have you taken to contribute pro bono hours during the year?

One comment

  1. Attorneys in private practice do not necessarily need to step outside their comfort zone to contribute pro bono services. Many nonprofits need attorneys to provide transactional legal services, advice on incorporating and writing bylaws, and help reviewing contracts and policies. Other cases involve learning new areas and skills, such as developing client relationship skills or litigation skills by representing a community group in an administrative hearing before the Baltimore City Municipal Zoning and Appeals Board or Baltimore City Liquor License Board. Many small nonprofits start out being run by volunteers, so meetings often take place after work hours and on weekends. This provides some flexibility in scheduling pro bono hours. To find out more about pro bono opportunities with community associations and nonprofit organizations throughout Maryland, register online here: http://communitylaw.org/volunteer/attorney-registration-form/