Whether it’s explicitly required or promoted as a nice-to-do, most firms encourage some sort of volunteerism from their legal professionals. Not only does it build immediate connections between lawyers and their communities, it can be a life-changing opportunity for those who otherwise couldn’t afford your firm’s level of attention and care.
While the American Bar Association encourages at least 50 hours of annual pro bono work, volunteering doesn’t have to stop there. When you invest your time in an organization that reflects your values and offers a sense of fulfillment, you’re more likely to make a greater impact and continue that work. Volunteerism doesn’t mean finding the flashiest name for your resume — it’s about helping those around you, in a way that works for everyone involved.
Ahead of the ABA’s Celebrate Pro Bono event (Oct. 24-30), it’s a perfect time to plan new short- or long-term volunteer efforts, either on a personal or firm level.
By areas of law expertise
This is where pro bono traditionally starts, and for most legal professionals it’s the easiest way to make an impact. The ABA’s National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide helps connect lawyers to state-by-state opportunities; in California alone, help is needed in 130 areas ranging from affordable housing to human trafficking to veterans’ rights.
Due to the effects of COVID-19 and other global events on our communities, a few areas of pro bono are in particular need:
- Eviction: A nationwide eviction moratorium ended last month, putting 11 million Americans at risk of losing their homes.
- Immigration: From immigrants at our southern border to Afghans fleeing their country, a broad variety of pro bono clients are in need of help. As part of Celebrate Pro Bono Week, the Immigration Service and Aid Center offers a 40-hour basic immigration law seminar to jump-start your DOJ accreditation process.
By areas of personal interest
While it’s easy to type a topic like “youth sports volunteering” into your search bar, legal professionals must also ensure an organization’s credibility meets their firm’s standards. Here are a few resources we like:
- United Way: This 125-year-old organization, active in nearly 1,800 communities across more than 40 countries and territories, helps connect volunteers to opportunities by skill (writing, public speaking, etc.) or category (hunger, adult education, etc.).
- Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters: From coaching a team to serving as a long-term mentor, these organizations provide a great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of kids and their families.
- VolunteerMatch: This online tool connects individuals to both in-person and virtual opportunities in a variety of categories. You also can learn how to make a difference internationally.
For attorneys who may be uncomfortable volunteering in person, or who want to serve clients who are unable to meet in person, virtual volunteering offers a great opportunity to make a difference. The ABA offers this list as a starting point:
- ABA Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic. Qualifying users post their civil legal question to their state’s website. Users will then be emailed when their question receives a response. Attorney volunteers, who must be authorized to provide pro bono aid in their state, log in to the website, select questions to answer, and provide legal information and advice. Volunteer attorneys do not answer criminal law questions.
- The ABA Military Pro Bono Project accepts case referrals from military attorneys on behalf of junior-enlisted, active-duty military personnel facing civil legal issues, and it places these cases with pro bono attorneys where the legal aid is needed. The Project is also the platform for Operation Stand-By, through which military attorneys may seek attorney-to-attorney guidance.
- The ABA Immigrant Child Advocacy Network (ICAN) connects pro bono attorneys with the tens of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant minor children in America who are scheduled for legal proceedings and have no right to appointed counsel or other adult representing the child’s interests. Without legal help, these children are unsuccessful in pressing their rights in over 90% of cases; with the help of a lawyer, these children prevail most of the time.
- Florida Pro Bono Matters allows lawyers to search through available pro bono matters. When you find the right volunteer opportunity, fill in your information and hit submit. The posting organization will then contact you with more information.