You Can See It in Their Faces

Today’s guest post was submitted by Saul H. Segan, a private attorney.

The practice of law is an honor and a privilege. When one is fortunate to be able to earn a livelihood by helping others to improve their lives and relieve their stresses, care should be taken to launch gratitude as a prime emotion. With the opportunity to earn a decent living, giving back has to become part and parcel of the experience.

In a training session just recently, a flock of attorneys were schooled in the importance of adhering to the same ethical standards in representing those who could not afford private attorneys as would be expected in handling the paying client. The lawyers there are actively engaged in community-minded and populace-friendly activities which are classified as “pro bono,” which means “for the public good,” and therefore, free.

The session, sponsored by Volunteers for Indigent Persons (VIP), is one of many that are held on a regular basis to train volunteer lawyers to handle the throngs who go to court unrepresented because of financial incapacity.  Many judges feel the frustration of wanting to render fair decisions and knowing that many of the people appearing before them would be better prepared with the presence of a skilled practitioner and give of their time to attend the session and stress the need for this supplementation of available legal services.

To some, it might come as a shock that thousands of hours are allocated or voluntarily expended by members of the legal profession purely to do good for those who normally would not be able to afford their services. Law firms of all sizes as well as sole practitioners enthusiastically participate in leveling the playing field for the indigent, the homeless, the disadvantaged, the endangered, the abused, and the destitute.

The stories of clients assisted by a volunteer attorney would warm the most detached of hearts. This writer’s own experience in hearing the declarations of relief  from the recipients of assistance, the easing of their fear and acute stress, their restoration of faith, and their recognition as human beings with rights and substance, is touching to the spirit and a validation of the necessity of this activity.

And the faces of the lawyers themselves, some new, some young and starry-eyed, others more seasoned and experienced in dealing with human suffering, all expressing excitement and enthusiasm in knowing they made a difference.

The benefits to lawyers and clients themselves are not always obvious.  Attorneys who participate frequently learn skills that can enhance their own scope of practice. Many attorneys can add these areas to their own individual practices or gain insights and familiarity that they might not have otherwise. There are opportunities to obtain needed continuing legal education credits which many lawyers must earn to remain eligible to practice. And it can never hurt to know as many fellow attorneys as possible for camaraderie and expansion of practice through referral sources.

The most important thing is to recognize that your life, personally and professionally, feels genuinely more worthwhile. Some lawyers say they sometimes enjoy the matters they don’t get paid for more than those for which they do.

One caveat: many attorneys have declared that participation in pro bono work can become addictive!

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