Part of the answer probably lies in the simple fact that indoctrination regarding pro bono work begins early. From the first day of law school, students are told that with the degree comes an obligation to donate time and services to those who otherwise would not be able to afford it. They are told that it is not only a moral responsibility, but a rewarding process that will contribute to their overall practice in many ways.
While students may agree pro bono is equally rewarding for both sides, they may find it difficult to put these thoughts into action. Many choose the practice of law with aspirations of providing a needed service-changing the world so to speak-and a commitment to "righting wrong." Those individuals may not feel the pressure to donate their time and services, as it is probably incumbent of their practice. There are others, however, who practice for the intellectual challenge, power, prestige, and/or the lure of the almighty dollar. While they don't blame others for wanting to donate their time freely, quite frankly, it is not on the top of their priority lists.
Nonetheless, look at the law firms of the attorneys who pursued private-service careers over public-interest ones and you will be hard pressed to find a firm that does not have pro bono prominently displayed on its agenda. The question is, how focused is the firm on making pro bono work an integral part of its culture and structure?
One example of a pro bono program may provide some clues. One of Atlanta's largest and most respected firms, Powell Goldstein LLP, recently established the Powell Goldstein Fellowship, sponsored by the firm to serve the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. At Powell Goldstein, the Fellowship is viewed as an honor, and the recipient is carefully selected by the firm.
Leah Fisher, Manager of Recruitment for Powell Goldstein, stated, "Powell Goldstein established its fellowship with Atlanta Legal Aid as a way for the firm to show its continued commitment to pro bono work while also providing an incoming associate with a demonstrated interest in pro bono work the opportunity to work fulltime as a staff attorney at Atlanta Legal Aid for 4 to 6 months. The benefit is that the fellowship gives the associate the opportunity to develop client counseling and advocacy skills early on in his or her career while also providing valuable legal services to clients with low incomes."
Still, fellowships and other pro bono activities appear focused on those already dedicated at some level to the work. And we know the work is important at least because of the obvious obligation to better society. Yet, given the tension between billable hours and non-paying, public-interest endeavors, one must wonder what drives firms to include pro bono commitment in their compensation and evaluation structure, initiate the creation of special committees, and sometimes create a management position dedicated solely to its pursuit? Plus, when pro bono work is integrated with the firm's requirements for associates, why should you be forced to take part? Several areas offer answers.
Relationships With The Community For our second case example, we examined a firm with a slightly different picture. Though this firm certainly scores high marks regarding large-scale transactions and marquis clientele, it is not considered one of the more traditional firms in New York. In addition to an undeniable New York presence, this firm is more notable for significant growth in other major United States cities and metropolitan locations across several continents.
Public perception is key to the success of any law firm. What better way to market a firm and attract clients than by having your firm name associated with activities that improve the community? Pro bono is an excellent way to build rapport and be viewed as a leader by the public.
Given the nature of a large-firm environment, work assigned to junior attorneys can be limited and at times tedious. Pro bono offers an associate the opportunity to get autonomy and experience not typically found early in a big-firm career. Pro bono is an excellent way to increase knowledge and develop legal skills quickly.
Students are very interested and will heavily research a firm's commitment to pro bono. They look for firms who not only announce they are strong advocates of pro bono, but can demonstrate that it's an integral part of the firm's framework. Firms that work to create atmospheres in which the value of pro bono service is recognized and appreciated will most often attract future associates who may be the next big rainmaker.
Low client contact is endemic to law firm life and often a major source of job dissatisfaction. Effectively handling a client is a key to the successful practice of law. As a result, partners are cautious about the amount of client face time associates receive. And there is the problem. Interaction with clients is a skill that has to develop right along with technical skills, but partners loathe to let junior attorneys near the firm's valuable clients. With pro bono, young attorneys deal with the clients immediately and are viewed as project leaders.
Diversity of Practice
In mid-to-large firms, attorneys typically spend their careers focused on a specific practice area. While there are definite advantages to being an expert in one area of the law, taking on a project outside the usual realm of one's practice can be a refreshing change. Indeed a pro bono project may be just what an attorney needs to keep the practice of law from becoming routine and stale.
So great, pro bono work will increase firms' places in the community and how they manage their associates, but what is in the work for you as an individual?
Simple. Roll all of the above into one, and you are likely to end up a much happier, more gratified attorney. By doing pro bono work, you will service your community, your firm will prosper (and, yes, when the firm is happy, your life at the firm improves), you will deal directly with clients, your skills will broaden, and your practice will be more diverse. In the end, it is difficult to argue that committing yourself to pro bono projects will not actually benefit you more than the other party.
Indeed, firms must understand that the work benefits them and their associates because although pro bono and the law have always gone hand-in-hand, firms' commitments to institutionalizing formal pro bono policies are becoming more common. True, firms may have offered some recognition to attorneys for committing their time to pro bono in the past, but written policies and stated goals are surfacing more and more. So for those who wonder why pro bono should be an obligatory component of your practice, just remember that not only is it for the public good, it's good for you too.
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.
With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.
Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.
Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.
One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.
One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.
Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.
In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.
Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.
In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays
You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts
You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives
Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.