Prior to attending a workshop that was sponsored by Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, I’ll admit I did not know much about the benefits of providing pro bono services besides it being a great service to the public.
I participated in a pro bono clinic for the first time earlier this month, an expungement fair the Waring-Mitchell Law Society co-sponsored with MVLS and a sorority.
While I’m no representative for any of the free/reduced legal assistance services, I have learned a few things along the way. Here are a few misconceptions I can debunk:
MYTH: You have to provide your own malpractice insurance.
FACT: This may be one of the biggest misconceptions that attorneys have (and is actually a deterrent to many). Many legal assistance services offer malpractice insurance for the volunteer services that attorneys provide.
MYTH: You have to be an “expert” in the field for which you volunteer.
FACT: Several legal assistance services provide free training to attorneys prior to the start of a clinic. Additionally, resources are available online for participating attorneys.
MYTH: If I take a pro bono case, it may take up the majority of my time.
FACT: Taking a case isn’t the only way to get involved. You may also participate in a clinic or fair. The clinics and fairs are typically one day events, and volunteers may sign up for a shift or elect to work the entire day.
MYTH: There’s no benefit for me in doing pro bono work.
FACT: Bah humbug! Actually, that misconception is very wrong. In addition to helping people in a way that they may not have otherwise been able to afford, you may have picked up a new client along the way. Situations arise where free or reduced legal assistance programs are unavailable and the same individual that you helped now needs to hire an attorney.
MYTH: I’m too busy looking for a job
FACT: See above. Additionally, doing pro bono work is a great way to show a future employer that you have remained active while unemployed. It’s also a great way to obtain experience outside of your practice areas.
So, ‘tis the season for giving. If you’re wondering how to positively impact a number of people, give some time!