By Wilson M. Brown III, Senior Counsel at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.
You’re looking beyond law school. You’ve landed an internship with an established firm or practice. Or you’ve been fortunate enough to find an associate or like position. Or you’ve signed on with a government agency or are clerking for a judge. You’re finding your way into the profession – like most of us did. It’s an exciting and challenging time. You may feel like you don’t need one more thing on your “to-do” list.
But I’m going to give you one anyway: Get involved in public interest legal work. Not tomorrow, or next month, or next year. Now. Because you will find in pro bono service some of the most rewarding and valuable work you will do as a young practicing attorney.
Of course, under our Rules of Professional Responsibility, public interest legal work is a part of every attorney’s calling: “A lawyer should render public interest legal service.” 204 Pa.Code, Rule 6.1.
But the reason this should be a priority for every young lawyer is that pro bono legal work will give you a chance from the get-go to interact directly with a client – your client – for whom you will be primarily responsible. You will learn hands-on what it means to safeguard that client’s interests, view problems from that client’s perspective, communicate effectively with a client, instill confidence, and manage difficulties appropriately. You will develop all of these skills in time in a law firm or government setting. But you’ll progress more quickly if you take up the challenge of having your own client backstopped by more experienced people you work with – who will want to help you succeed because they know you’ll be a better lawyer for the effort. That’s why most law firms encourage pro bono service. It’s not only good for the community; it’s good for you and the firm.
Finally, pro bono work allows you a chance to follow your passions. Children in need of support, detainees denied basic human rights, women suffering abuse, officials overstepping or ignoring legal boundaries, neighborhoods blighted by poverty – whatever moves you, there is an organization in the Philadelphia area that will welcome your skills and your help.
You can find a world of resources on the Bar Foundation’s website. You’ll find links to nearly forty (yes, 40!) of our nonprofit partners, ranging from anti-poverty advocacy to women’s rights to child welfare to court reform. Almost all of these organizations provide opportunities for service and valuable experience for young lawyers. Get involved!
I also want to call young attorneys’ attention to several programs administered by the Bar Foundation. These include the ACCGP Diversity Corporate Internship Program (which aims at increasing diversity within corporate legal departments); and the Board Observer Program (which allows young lawyers to volunteer and assist boards of legal services and other nonprofits in the area). Law students will also find a variety of public interest fellowships and scholarship opportunities, including the William M. Marutani Fellowship providing summer internships and the Albert W Sheppard Scholarship Fund, providing judicial clerkship experience. Check out www.philabarfoundation.org/work/programs for more information.
So, get involved. It’s well worth it.