A Ticket to a Successful and Fulfilling Legal Career

By Bob Glaves  |  CBF Executive Director

In the toolbox of strategies for making your legal career an accomplished and fulfilling one, there is one tool that is often overlooked and almost always underrated: pro bono. While pro bono should be an integral part of your practice for many fundamental reasons, an added bonus is that it also helps ensure long term success and satisfaction in your career.

So how can doing pro bono work help you advance your career and find fulfillment in our fast changing profession?

Building Skills and Experience

One of the most fundamental ways that pro bono can help you advance your career is by offering an opportunity to build your skills and get meaningful experience, particularly early in your legal career.

Depending on where you work, getting meaningful practice experience early in your career can be difficult. Pro bono can give you the opportunity to get some of that key experience while you are providing an important service to someone in need. And in the process, you build or hone legal skills that make you a better lawyer in all of your work.

No matter your practice area, there are almost certainly pro bono opportunities right in your proverbial wheelhouse. You can volunteer to help a low-income client in one of your core practice areas (e.g., a litigator representing a client in contested court proceeding, or a transactional lawyer providing support for a nonprofit organization like updating corporate articles and bylaws, negotiating a real estate lease, assisting with IP issues, or updating employment policies). When you partner with a good pro bono and legal aid organization, you can also benefit from the training, mentoring, and support of their experienced lawyers to sharpen your skills while expanding the organization’s ability to help people in need and advance its mission.

Want to learn more? Attend this complimentary Pro Bono Week CLE!

How Pro Bono Contributes to a Successful Career

Wednesday, October 25, 12:00-1:00 pm
The Chicago Bar Association

Pro bono work provides lawyers with opportunities to give back to the community, but there are other career benefits as well. Newer lawyers can gain experience, confidence, and connections both inside and outside their firms. More experienced attorneys can gain greater visibility as well as case-management and leadership skills. This panel discussion will help you discover how pro bono work can be an essential part of your career development. One hour of PR CLE credit subject to approval.

Beyond that, anyone with a practice that involves having to make their cases to juries and other regular people can learn a lot about humility and connecting to people by representing vulnerable people in the legal system. Similarly, transactional lawyers can gain invaluable experience navigating complex regulatory thickets such as helping a low-income family navigate often byzantine public benefits systems.

Enhancing Professional Satisfaction, Countering Burnout

Whatever your practice setting, pro bono offers tremendous opportunities for us to be happier, better, and more productive lawyers (and that goes for law firms and legal departments as well). The most successful lawyers regularly point to pro bono cases as the most satisfying experiences in their careers, and that is no accident. Most of us went to law school with the idea of making a positive difference in the world, and pro bono offers you a concrete way to do that.

And while it may seem counter-intuitive, doing pro bono when you are feeling burned out can be a great antidote for that feeling. As the legendary management consultant Peter Drucker put it, Precisely because you are overworked, you need the extra and different stimulus to put different parts of yourself to work, both physically and mentally.

Pro bono can recharge your batteries by reminding you of why you became a lawyer and the unique power you have to make a real difference in the lives of others who need legal help.

Building Connections

If you are working in a firm or larger corporate department, pro bono can offer an opportunity to work with more senior partners or counsel who you might not otherwise get to work with, and gives you a chance to show them what kind of lawyer you are.

Whatever your practice setting, it is a good opportunity to meet and work with new colleagues, bolster your professional reputation, and expand your network.

And when you partner with a good pro bono or legal aid organization, the lawyers on staff often become long-term mentors and sources of referrals. Doing pro bono work also often leads to other leadership opportunities on boards, advisory boards, and other initiatives.

Stretching Your Comfort Zone

Another big benefit from pro bono is the chance to stretch your comfort zone with the safety net of training, support, and malpractice coverage that a good pro bono or legal aid organization can offer.

One of the most important skills we all need to learn and master in today’s fast-changing profession is the ability to think on our feet and adapt to changing circumstances. By pushing your limits and taking on new or more advanced pro bono assignments, you will become more comfortable doing that throughout your practice and better positioned to adapt to the changing tides of our profession.

Onward and Upward

These are just some of the many important ways pro bono can help make you a well-rounded lawyer and set you up for a successful and fulfilling career while helping meet real needs in our community. Check out the CBF’s Pro Bono Resource Page for more information on how you can get involved.