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Many of the reasons to do pro bono legal work are familiar to most lawyers. Volunteering in communities without access to quality legal services is part of our responsibility as lawyers to use our skills in service to others. It is also an opportunity to have a meaningful and lasting impact on people’s lives. The American Bar Association encourages all lawyers to commit to at least 50 hours of pro bono service each year. Lawyers are also encouraged to take on pro bono projects that will provide them hands-on experience in their practice area. While these reasons should motivate you throughout your career, there are certain benefits of pro bono work that are particularly important for new associates. Doing pro bono work, any pro bono work, will help you develop certain intangible skills, less obviously related to your practice area, but essential to your developing career as a lawyer. SUPERVISING OTHERS As any first-year associate can tell you, we are at the bottom of the chain of command. We do not get a chance to supervise others very often, but we also know firsthand how important good direction and feedback can be. It is never too early to start learning how to provide good supervision, and pro bono work often enables you to practice those skills. While working on a recent pro bono project related to persons with mental illness and the criminal justice system, I supervised four summer associates conducting interviews and drafting interview memos. Trying to articulate for them the goals of the assignment, answer their questions as the project progressed, and provide feedback on their work, I gained a new respect for the efforts my supervisors make with me. I also tested my own skills as a leader, trying to avoid mistakes I had seen others make. Someday, we will no longer be new associates. Learning now how to manage others effectively is a necessary skill regardless of your practice area. Pro bono work is usually the best way to get that experience early in your career. ACCESS TO SENIOR ATTORNEYS Regardless of how much access to partners you have in your practice, pro bono work affords you the opportunity to work more closely with them, developing relationships that will serve you well throughout your career. Pro bono projects tend to be staffed more leanly than billable matters. You could find yourself the only associate on a pro bono matter, working closely with your partner adviser to get the job done — a situation you are not likely to find in any other work. Pro bono work, because it draws attorneys from throughout a firm, also provides a unique opportunity to work with attorneys outside your practice group. Through my pro bono work, I have worked with attorneys from our government relations practice, our environmental group, and our tax team. More than a source of new friends in the office, working with attorneys outside your area exposes you to different working styles and the skills and expertise these attorneys possess. SUBSTANTIVE WORK If your first year at the firm is being filled with document review or other mind-numbing assignments, pro bono is an opportunity to escape some of the drudgery new lawyers face. The chance to do more substantive work on a pro bono case has the obvious benefit of improving your skills. It may be just as important for your outlook. Two of my first-year colleagues recently took on an asylum petition. Although they have a partner adviser providing assistance when needed, the associates have complete responsibility for the case — interviewing the client, drafting her petition, finding an expert witness to testify on her behalf, and ultimately, trying the case before an administrative law judge. In addition to a tremendous learning experience, the case is sometimes a welcome change. Escaping some of the less-glamorous aspects of law firm practice, if only for a few hours, can remind you why you liked the law in the first place. It can also make those late nights at the firm more bearable, since at least part of your day is spent doing substantive work that has a meaningful impact on your client’s life. The substantive experience you gain can help you develop your “law firm r�sum�.” My friends handling the asylum trial now have experience interviewing experts and preparing witnesses for trial, making them more marketable to clients and more valuable to the firm partners. BE THE EXPERT Rarely does a new associate arrive at the law firm with something to teach the more senior associates. The first year (and sometimes second and third!) is primarily a learning experience. Pro bono can be an exception to that rule — an opportunity for a new associate to shine. In our office, one new associate came to the firm with significant experience through her law school clinic helping domestic violence victims obtain civil protection orders. Working with the pro bono coordinator at our firm, she started a program for firm associates to continue that work in conjunction with a local non-profit. Soon she was training senior associates and partners to handle these cases. Pro bono work gave her the chance to convert her law school experience into a leadership position in the firm’s pro bono efforts. Even if you do not come into the firm with significant experience, pro bono cases allow you to gain experience quickly. After doing one asylum petition, a first-year associate instantly becomes a valuable resource to anyone taking on a similar case. Becoming an expert in your pro bono work can be gratifying when the learning curve on so many other things seems so steep. Sharing your experience is also a way to multiply the benefits of your service by helping others serve these needy communities. PLAYING TO YOUR STRENGTHS Besides helping the new associate, pro bono work can also help a firm better understand its own skills and resources. Our partner in the pro bono project on mental illness, the Appleseed Foundation, gave our firm great liberty in designing a program that we thought would be effective. The issues surrounding mental illness and the criminal justice system are extensive and varied and, therefore, it was tempting to try to take on several different problems at once. It was quickly apparent, however, that, as a law firm, we were well-situated to tackle certain problems and distinctly unqualified to handle others. Understanding both the expertise of our firm and the amount of resources we could reasonably expect to devote to the project were essential to crafting a workable program. The same is, of course, true of billable work. Firms have to market their strong practice groups in order to expand their client base. At the same time, it is just as important to recognize when you need to turn down clients because you lack the resources or experience to tackle their particular problem. It is better to send them to another firm with the skills they are looking for than to take on the work and disappoint. Again, it will be a long time before today’s junior associates are wooing firm clients, but the principles of understanding what you can accomplish and when you need help from someone else are important lessons. Pro bono, because it often takes law firms out of their comfort zone, forces us to think creatively about using our resources. It is never too early to start reaping the personal and professional benefits of pro bono work. In addition to fulfilling your responsibilities in the profession and reaping the personal rewards of such work, pro bono can have a unique impact on new lawyers anxious to gain the experience and skills of their practice and their profession. Kristen C. Limarzi is beginning her second year as an associate in the litigation and antitrust group of King & Spalding in Washington, D.C.

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