Pro Bono: What’s In It For You?
J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law
Greetings my fellow exhausted, cynical law student. If you are like me, it may feel like you have been pitched at least 50 times on the many benefits of pro bono work. But, you know what? I still want to put in my two cents, particularly for students who, like me, may want to work for big law firms after graduation. Big firms don’t care about pro bono, right? I mean, let’s be honest, they say they do, but they really don’t, right? That is incorrect my jaded friend.
Like me, you have probably heard that firms only care about grades, the prestige of your school, Law Review, etc., etc. So, I was surprised to find out that the question I was asked most during OCI, even more often than “Are you doing Law Review?” was “Oh, I see you did pro bono work with Public Law Center. I’m on the Board of PLC (or, insert: “I love PLC,” or “We do lots of pro bono projects with PLC,” or “We were honored at the last PLC dinner,” etc.). Would you tell me about your project?” This was a great way to break the ice, highlight legal work experience, and show that you can time manage—even in law school (yes, it can be done!). Having a phenomenal GPA is good, and it is true that hiring partners love that, but firms also want associates who know how to manage their time and who can handle multiple projects without having nervous breakdowns.
Firms also value associates who are well-networked in their community, and pro bono is a great way to meet local attorneys and start establishing your reputation. By getting involved in pro bono projects while you are in law school, local attorneys can become familiar with your work and then, when you are working for a firm and are looking for a challenging pro bono project that will highlight your skills and impress your bosses, local agencies and attorneys will trust you with their important cases.
Finally, pro bono is where you can develop some really valuable skills that you otherwise would not get as a junior associate at a firm. Let’s be frank, junior associates are not going to trial, and certainly are not arguing in the Ninth Circuit. But, as a pro bono attorney, you can take these cases and rock them. What supervising attorney wouldn’t be impressed by an associate who got a favorable ruling in the Ninth Circuit?
Now is the time to make time for pro bono work. In Orange County in particular, the resources for low income and indigent individuals are incredibly scarce and public interest firms depend largely on pro bono attorneys to provide the services their clients desperately need. Plus, didn’t we all come to UCI Law because we are drawn to its public interest mission to some degree? This does not necessarily mean you have to be a public interest attorney. To me, it means making time for pro bono so that I stay grounded and remember how relatively easy it is for me to provide access to a whole legal universe that so many people in my community desperately want and do not have. I hope that it means something similar to you.
You’re still reading? You’re not as cynical as I thought. Here is my last pitch: If you are looking for some groundbreaking and rewarding pro bono, the Native American Boarding School Healing Project would love to have you!