Why All Legal Students Should Do Pro Bono Work

While earning a decent salary may not be your sole reason for pursuing a law career, it probably factors into the equation. And you most certainly didn’t plan on working for free — which makes the pro bono concept a challenging one to understand at first glance. Drill down further, however, and doing pro bono work starts to make sense — both from a professional and personal point of view. Let’s take a closer look at the topic, along with highlighting five reasons why pro bono work is a worthwhile investment.

What is Pro Bono?

Derived from the Latin phrase pro bono publico, or “for the good of the people,” pro bono refers to “legal services performed free of charge or at reduced fees for the public good,” according to The Balance.

Pro bono services typically assist people from underserved and marginalized backgrounds — including children and the elderly — who can’t afford legal representation. In addition to providing free legal advice, pro bono also comprises volunteer work for organizations relating to the law.

Why Pro Bono Matters

These services are desperately needed: more than 40 percent of poor households in the U.S. experience at least one legal problem annually, according to the American Bar Association. And yet civil legal aid falls woefully short when it comes to meeting these needs.

This work is so important, in fact, that the American Bar Association dictates that every lawyer has a “professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” Its recommendation? All lawyers should aspire to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono work per year.

What’s In It For You?

While it’s easy to think of pro bono work in terms of the help it provides to others, law students also have plenty to gain from taking on pro bono work, including the following five benefits:

1. It Strengthens Your Skills

Sure, you’re amassing plenty of theoretical knowledge in the classroom, but wouldn’t you like to start putting that knowledge to work in the real world? Law students who take on pro bono work participate in a broad range of legal functions — from conducting client interviews to honing their legal writing and drafting skills. Meanwhile, “soft skills,” like communication, organization and time management, also get a valuable boost.

2. It Looks Good on a CV

Given the abundance of skills learned in the field, the impact of pro bono work on your resume is hardly a surprise. In fact, as reported by LawCareers.Net, one study reveals that approximately 80 percent of HR executives at top law firms are particularly impressed by candidates who have done pro bono work. Just how impressed are they? Pro bono work trumps paralegal experience as well as additional qualifications when your CV is under review. The takeaway? Job-minded law students can gain a critical leading edge by prioritizing pro bono work.

3. Networking Opportunities Abound

Pro bono work is a great way to make connections, including with everyone from other law students to legal professionals currently working in the field. These relationships will stay with you throughout your career.

If you’re aiming to ultimately work in the public sector, meanwhile, the people you meet during your pro bono work can later serve as references — both regarding your practical skills and your commitment. Not to mention that when it comes to enhancing your reputation, there’s no better way to make yourself look good than by volunteering your time to people in need.

4. You’ll Discover Potential Paths

Criminal law may be the most widely known area of law, but there are many fields to explore. And while reading about them in textbooks gives you some idea of what to expect, there’s no substitute for first-hand experience. Find something you love? Pro bono work lays the groundwork for future opportunities in this field.

5. Doing Good Feels Good

We’ve already established that doing pro bono work will be your responsibility as a lawyer, but isn’t it also your responsibility as a human being? Factor in that student life can become very insular and all-encompassing, and many students end up completely forgetting about the world outside the classroom. Not to mention — when was the last time you regretted doing something just because it was the right thing to do?

As it turns out, doing for others doesn’t just feel good, it’s also good for you. From weight control to memory enhancement, volunteering has been scientifically linked with many health advantages. One study even ties volunteering to a 24 percent reduced mortality risk!

While pro bono work may on the surface seem counterintuitive to fast-tracking your career and paying back those student loans, the reality is that it’s an important part of becoming a better lawyer. Why wait until graduate when you can start making a difference — and reaping the benefits of doing so — now? For more information on pro bono opportunities, check out Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing volunteer lawyer participation.