Article of the Week

“Many Benefits of Providing Pro Bono Legal Work” by Craig Nevin

Pro-bono attorneys provide an absolutely vital function to our courts.Without them, both our judicial system and the public perception of our courts would be undermined: public perception would be that justice can only be obtained in proportion to the amount of money someone happens to have to spend on obtaining that amount of justice.

Honorable David B. Flinn

Throughout the years, many reasons have been advanced, and many passages written, to encourage attorneys to provide pro bono legal work. Contra Costa Superior Court Judge David B. Flinn authored one of the most inspirational of these, as quoted above. His quote unmistakably reminds us of the significant impact pro bono legal work has on our courts and the public perception of our judicial system. Taking on pro bono cases will also have a positive impact on you — as well as your practice.

First, pro bono legal work often results in significant professional development. It is not unusual to see newer attorneys “step up to the pro bono plate” in disproportionately large numbers. These newer attorneys (and their firms) often use the opportunity to provide pro bono service as an opportunity to learn. Similarly, it is not unusual for attorneys to provide pro bono assistance in matters outside their area of expertise. Perhaps it’s out of curiosity — seeing what it’s like to practice in another area of law. Or maybe to catch the rising tide of a particular type of problem. Regardless of the reason, most pro bono clients would be quite happy to have an attorney answering their legal questions or working on their matters, rather than having to attempt to represent themselves — even if that attorney is also working through “the learning curve.”

Another aspect of professional development that can result from providing pro bono legal work is the mentoring that often accompanies it, as well as the other professional relationships that often form or deepen. Many organizations (including some programs of the Contra Costa County Bar Association) provide mentoring, professional development and training to their volunteer attorneys. The Law Center, for example, encourages a team approach and co-counsel relationships for pro bono legal work where appropriate. This concept allows the work to be divided, which can result in a greater impact to the client as a result of the hours provided by each attorney or law firm.

While one often thinks of more noble reasons, many attorneys report that providing pro bono legal work often results in business development. Perhaps because public perception of attorneys is low, those who provide pro bono work tend to stand out, both in the eyes of non-attorneys and other attorneys as well.

There is another important reason for making a personal commitment to provide pro bono legal work each year: It’s good for you and for your health. Studies confirm that an obsessive focus on material gain (or for that matter, on the number of hours billed) causes both physical and emotional burnout. It has been said that, “any volunteering is good volunteering,” and that expression is certainly appropriate with respect to pro bono legal work. When providing pro bono services, one realizes almost immediately that those who need such assistance are most often the elderly, those who have become disabled or those who are facing severe financial challenges. By providing assistance to this group, attorneys are almost certain to feel more positive about themselves. As a result, by intentionally giving of one’s time and talents to those less fortunate, both the client and the attorney benefit.

There are many, many instances where attorneys and law firms provided a relatively small amount of pro bono legal work, yet by doing so, completely changed someone’s life for the better. If you have provided pro bono legal work in the past, it is likely you continue to do so. If you haven’t, do it this year — you will be amazed by the abundant benefits it provides to everyone involved.

If you know someone who deserves the spotlight, please contact:

Craig S. Nevin
Nevin, Ramos & Steele
700 Ygnacio Valley Road, Suite 300
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
925-280-1700 • fax 925-935-1642
cnevin@lawnrs.com

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