Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Musings on Pro Bono Work

After my first "musings" post, I thought it would be nice to, well, muse every now and again about other items on my mind. And recently, "the" item on my mind has been pro bono--not necessarily because I've also fallen victim to the Good Samaritan Effect. Rather, my school requires that I complete 35 hours of pro bono by year's end. So here I am thinking about viable (sorry, Justices Scalia/Blackmun!) pro bono opportunities and, fortuitously, I see the message Jim Luce--contributor to the Huffington Post and founder of Orphans International--left in a comment to my Good Samaritan Effect posting, encouraging lawyers to take on more pro bono work. This really got me thinking. But now I'll stop stalling, and tell you where I'm going with this.

At first I was quite ambivalent to the mandatory 35 hours of pro bono a year (starting with the 2L year) that my law school requires each student to complete in order to graduate. Law school is a lot of work as it is, and if anything, I thought that this "mandate" would simply sour my perspective on pro bono work in general. I thought, why not make it optional? At least that way the work would feel more rewarding in that it was my own choice to do it if I so desired.

I must say that these initial apprehensions were wrong. I have found the work to be both intellectually challenging and very rewarding, and I do not think that I would have otherwise seriously considered taking it on had it not been for my school's requirement. Indeed, it is all too probable that I would have simply put it off out of the fear that my grades could have suffered if I had spread myself too thinly. I believe this is precisely one of the principal issues with which many students and practitioners are concerned.

I have resolved my own ambivalence toward mandatory pro bono work, but, as noted, I appreciate that lawyers do work in a variety of capacities, and often are quite preoccupied with numerous pressing matters--ostensibly more so than law students. In this vein, I think it can fairly be said that the prospect of taking on more work in general--be it pro bono or otherwise--does sometimes seem daunting. Nevertheless, I think it is at least worth considering (musing, if you prefer) the benefits of taking on pro bono work at least periodically throughout your career along with your other general responsibilities, notwithstanding the added inconvenience of the extra workload. Many practitioners with whom I have spoken find the work extremely rewarding; and from my own limited (albeit required) experience with it, I have as well.

Just some thoughts . . .


In the interest of full disclosure, the "Finding Nima" logo was created by one of my good friends during my undergraduate years for an entirely different purpose. I think it fits well with the "musings" concept, however. If you disagree, feel free to comment or e-mail me. :)


  1. Why REQUIRE students do pro bono! That's crazy

  2. I agree, that's pretty outrageous. At least it's been a positive experience for u.

  3. Why require students to do anything? Pro bono doesn't mean voluntary, it means "for the public good." But it also has real educational benefit, and is as valid a requirement as typical reqs like writing, specific courses, moot court, etc.

    I also go to a school that integrates pro bono work into the curriculum, making it part of the experiences required to graduate. For students who take it at all seriously, it is one of the most productive, educational, and enjoyable experiences in law school. It can expose you to actual legal work, live issues, and a network of lawyers--something that doesn't usually happen in most law school courses. It thus not only gives you a lot of practical benefit, but it also helps inculcate a commitment to the public interest in graduates.


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