J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of ALR/PRA, Inc., a full service law practice management agency. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations and marketing. Nick also shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.
Attorneys in transition may be frustrated by a lack of work. When most of us think of work we expect to be paid for our time. Consider the clients with good cases who don’t have the money to hire a lawyer. Consider the lawyers who get good cases and need help but cannot afford to hire an associate. What is the value of work? How do you define compensation? I suggest there can be great value and compensation in pro bono efforts.
I wrote about a legal career event I attended at Northwestern University School of Law last summer. Sponsored by the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section, the event featured a panel of distinguished professionals who spoke on their road to their current positions. One recurring theme expressed by the panelists was the ability to recognize and seize genuine opportunities. The benefits of pro bono service were also discussed, because you never know where they might lead.
I started engaging in pro bono service when I was an undergraduate student at Marquette University. Knowing I wanted to go to law school, I sought an internship to gain more experience and build my resume. My “Intro to Law” professor told me she was a prosecutor at the Milwaukee County Office of the District Attorney. ADA, Sister Mary Johnstone, made a phone call and before I knew it I was the law clerk to the Misdemeanor Team Captain. The key to this opportunity was that I didn’t need to be paid, and was hungry to learn. Fifteen years later, I still rely on my experiences working in that office, and it has been surprising how often I have been glad I understood the charging and prosecution process from the inside.
One of my friends is a very well-known immigration and criminal defense attorney who, through her accomplishments, has earned the trust of several large firms who refer cases to her, some of which she takes for no fee. My friend sometimes stops by my office and lets me know about a matter she is working on and indicates she may need additional help with research and drafting. Knowing that she is well-connected and always on the lookout for high-quality attorneys, I send her a pro bono law student or lawyer in transition, who is willing to work pro bono. These pro bono opportunities can open doors and introductions to new people who could help propel one’s career.
If you are an attorney in transition, consider carving out some time for a pro bono effort, because you never know what you might learn or who you might meet in the process. I agree that the bills need to be paid and cash needs to flow – you can have the best of both worlds and earn money outside of law, where necessary, while continuing to build your resume. My father often told me during law school, “You can become whatever you want; it is just a matter of how hard you are willing to work to get there.”