“Whatever community organization, whether it’s a women’s organization, or fighting for racial justice … you will get satisfaction out of doing something to give back to the community that you never get in any other way.”
— Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The benefits of pro bono work are numerous. Pro bono work provides an opportunity for an attorney to help an individual who may not have the resources to hire an attorney. It is also a chance for an attorney to support a cause or pursue a passion that may not be part of his or her day to day practice. Additionally, pro bono work can be an opportunity, particularly for young attorneys, to gain practical legal experience in the courtroom and autonomy in handling a case. Finally, intangible benefits of pro bono work, as with any volunteer work, include overall happiness of the individual attorney and community involvement and activism of the law firm.
I started my legal career as an Assistant Defender with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, representing indigent clients in criminal matters in Philadelphia. My work as a public defender was immensely rewarding, both professionally and emotionally, and I knew that when I left the Defender Association, I wanted to continue working for underrepresented individuals and for social justice.
In 2010, I became a volunteer attorney with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. The Pennsylvania Innocence Project works to exonerate those convicted of crimes they did not commit and to prevent innocent people from being convicted. The organization only takes on cases from factually innocent individuals who have been wrongfully convicted and exhausted their appeals. Volunteer attorneys screen, evaluate, investigate and develop cases for litigation where an inmate has been wrongfully convicted of a crime but is in fact innocent and advocate for policies and reforms to address systemic causes of wrongful convictions. Volunteer attorneys are extremely important to the success of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project due to its limited professional staff.
No matter what type of pro bono work an attorney chooses to engage in, there is no downside to committing even just a few hours a month to pro bono work. The attorney, law firm and, most importantly, the community, will be better off for it.