As the spring term begins at law schools across the country, third year students are frantically looking for jobs. At a time in which law firms are dissolving, laying off associates, and rescinding offers to summer associates, job prospects are bleak. The same economic factors that placed this legal talent on the market are also creating an ever increasing population eligible for representation by a legal services program. According to the law of supply and demand, what is the logical answer for lawyers without jobs? Legal Aid and pro bono, of course, is that answer.
Pro bono work requires the actual representation of clients. The experience of presenting your case to the court, investigating facts, developing a legal theory, drafting documents, and examining witnesses may give you an edge over other job candidates to keep your current position or help you land a job if you decide to go back to private practice. Frankly, a candidate with a year or two actually representing clients versus one who has labored in the cavernous law library of a formerly huge firm, mining arcane facts for memoranda that a partner will use to try to wow some corporate client should be more marketable.
But, working for a legal services program, or, for that matter, doing pro bono work as part of a private firm, is more than being a do-gooder, gaining practical legal experience, or giving back to the community. These are all good reasons for doing the work, but it's really about truly participating in the justice system. Representing clients for pay and billing by the hour is the business of the practice of law. It is how lawyers pay the bills and make a living. Giving freely of your time and legal skills to those most in need is the essence of justice. More importantly, it can be an eye opening experience as to how the system works or often does not work for those of differing socioeconomic status. It allows you to concentrate on the client and the result and not the bottom line.
Whether you are a practicing attorney, a soon to be law school graduate, or someone who found him/herself suddenly unemployed, remember there are a variety of reasons for considering working “pro bono” either for a legal services program or as part of your private practice. The important thing is to consider it.