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The benefits of pro bono

Before I went to law school, but after I made the decision to become an attorney, I would dream of a prolific legal career. I imagined myself spending a majority of my work life inside a courtroom. I would spend my days successfully arguing motions, cross-examining witnesses until they crumbled under testimonial contradictions and delivering rousing closing arguments that the packed court room would routinely cheer after I concluded. In other words, my legal career would be a cross of several different law-related television shows and movies, with me being the protagonist (and an awesome one at that).

Obviously, life does not always imitate art. Soon after graduating law school and several months after becoming a duly qualified attorney, my decision to pursue a legal practice centering on commercial litigation did not begin with me spending days upon days in trial. As many civil practitioners understand, a majority of cases are resolved before the decision is left to a judge or six jurors. In many cases, the best resolution for both parties involves a mutually agreeable settlement.

At the beginning of my career, I understood the importance of actual field training (in this case – actual time spent litigating cases, in a courtroom, working on cross-examinations and openings/closings). Much like a muscle that needs to be used to retain (or obtain) its strength and definition, one’s litigation skills must be used in actual courtroom practice or the skills will dull and erode. I looked to pro bono cases.

I could select pro bono cases that I wanted, which would provide me the opportunity to help those in need of legal services without the resources to pay. At the same time, I would be able to spend quality time with a Circuit or District Court judge in the state of Maryland. This, however, is only one of many benefits, evidenced by the fact that I still handle pro bono and district court cases despite having a few years of practice (and numerous trials) under my belt.

Pro bono cases also provide a sense of personal satisfaction, as the legal system is confusing and complex for any first time participant. My idealism that the law was a level playing field for all of the parties was one of the reasons why I decided to become a lawyer. Whether I am representing a corporate client in need of a mechanic’s lien or an individual about to be unfairly evicted from his rental property, the law is law. My goal (whether that matter is for a client or pro bono client) is to untangle the confusion of the legal system for my client. When I look back at some of my favorite cases (or the ones with the best stories), there are always a few pro bono cases that are part of my personal top ten.

And finally, while pro bono work is not mandatory in Maryland, I am reminded each year of the pro bono work that I performed when filling out the annual report to the Court of Appeals of pro bono activities (which is due on February 15, 2014 – failure to report may result in decertification). I get to fill out that I met my aspirational (and the Court’s) goal of 50 pro bono hours a year. But really, it’s not about the number of hours, but the people that I helped and the skills that I learned. So, if you have not already done so, contact your local pro bono provider (PBRC is always a good place to start). And don’t forget to submit your pro bono reporting requirement before Friday.