Law firms often do pro bono work as a way to help out in their communities and foster goodwill toward the law profession. Once you are working as an attorney, you will occasionally be asked to take a pro bono case. Here’s everything you need to know about pro bono work.
What does pro bono mean?
The phrase, “pro bono” is actually a shortened version of a Latin phrase. “Pro bono publico” means, “for the good of the public.” The phrase is typically associated with the free work that attorneys and law firms do to serve people who cannot afford to pay for legal services.
Who does pro bono work?
Most attorneys donate dozens of hours in pro bono work every year. This practice is not specifically required, but is strongly suggested by professional organizations such as the American Bar Association, as well as state and local bar associations. The American Bar Association recommends that lawyers donate 50 hours of pro bono work per year.
What are the benefits of doing pro bono work?
There are two types of attorneys—those who serve the public, such as public defenders and prosecutors, and those who work in private practice. It has long been the case that attorneys in private practice earn a much higher income than those in the public sector. As such, there’s an unspoken agreement that those who benefit more financially from practicing law in the private sector will donate more of their time to members of the public who can’t afford to pay.
In addition to staying in good standing with the legal community, lawyers who do pro bono work have the added benefit of gaining a good reputation in the public eye. Lawyers continually rank as one of the top few careers that the general public dislikes; doing good works is one way to change the pre-conceived notions that people have about the morality and respectability of lawyers.
Attorneys frequently report that they enjoy working on pro bono cases. For some, these cases provide a different type of work than normal. The variety allows attorneys the opportunity to gain valuable experience in a different field of law, and to work with a variety of different people. Pro bono work can be very satisfying—you have the chance to feel as if you’ve made a difference in a client’s life.
How do attorneys decide which cases to work pro bono?
Most law firms dedicate a specific number of hours per year to a charity or non-profit with whom they’ve worked for many year. Legal work can be done for the organization itself, or for individuals referred to the firm through the organization. Law firms also work with legal services organizations to provide pro bono work to members of the general public.
Just because a law school is high-ranking doesn’t mean it’s the right school for you. When deciding which law schools to apply for, consider these five factors.
Law school can cost upwards of $100,000—just in tuition. While you may be able to get into a top-tier school, your odds of being offered a scholarship might be much lower. If you don’t have very unique circumstances that make you a great scholarship candidate, consider looking at lower-ranked schools that might offer you a more attractive package than just an acceptance letter.
Cost of Living
The cost of living is much higher in Boston than it is in Salt Lake City. Consider your financial situation. Most schools discourage law students from working during the school year, and some outright forbid it, especially for first-year students. Look at housing costs, transportation, insurance, food, etc. when deciding where to apply. If you’re planning on going out of state, don’t forget that tuition can be double or more that of your resident state.
Some people thrive in bustling, big cities; others feel stressed and crowded. You may want a small town where the living is quiet, or a place where you can ride your bike to the grocer on the corner. The availability of extracurricular activities is important, too. Check out the campus of the school, too. By visiting in person, you’ll be able to talk to current students and find out more about the campus culture. Whatever your personality, take time to explore the locations of the schools you’re interested in; you’ll be living there for three years, after all.
The more support you have throughout law school, the better. Moving several thousand miles away from family and friends can make it harder to deal with the emotional aspects of law school. Think carefully about your needs; if you have an independent spirit, family support might not matter as much.
Support while on campus is also important, and can have a big impact on how well you do in school and what kind of internships you land. Find out how hands-on professors are and what kind of mentoring and support you can expect to receive from the program at each school you’re looking at.
If you already know that you’ll be pursuing a specific field of law, choosing a school that focuses on that field will obviously be beneficial. Look at the professors and their backgrounds as well as the available courses. Even if the school you choose is ranked lower than others, if it offers a great program in your specialty, it will be a better fit for you.
Students preparing for law school often try to tailor their majors, coursework and even extracurricular activities based on what they think law schools want to see on applications. It’s simply not necessary to second-guess law schools—they’re looking for a wide variety of personal traits, achievements and activities.
When it comes to law schools, diversity means more than just gender and race. Schools are looking for people with diverse backgrounds. Harvard Law School states, “Our admissions committee seeks not only to identify and recognize characteristics that are important to academic success in law school, but also qualities that will contribute diversity of perspective and experience, general excellence, and vitality to the student body.”
One thing is certain: the better your grades, the better your likelihood to get into the law school you choose. In addition to stellar grades, admissions committees will look at your transcript. Achieving a 4.0 GPA while taking basket-weaving and snowboarding is very different than earning a 3.8 GPA with courses in quantum physics.
Simply put, your LSAT score matters. The higher, the better—no question about it. Study hard and retake the exam if your first score is low.
Law school admissions boards love to see students with a wide variety of interests and pursuits. Don’t be concerned about what will look good; simply follow your passions. A good mix of extracurriculars is key. If you do something that is unique, all the better. During the application process (and later, the interview process), talk about the things you’ve done that will make you stand out. For instance, while many candidates may play the piano, few play the bassoon.
Law schools like to attract responsible citizens; as an attorney, you’ll be part of America’s justice system and will be expected to be a good example to those in your community. A history of volunteerism is looked on favorably. Again, follow your passions and don’t worry about your volunteer work aligning with law—helping young children learn to read or visiting a third-world country to help dig water wells are just as impressive. Look for volunteer work that will truly help you grow as a person. Not only will that help you on your law school application, it will help you throughout your life.
Seek out opportunities for leadership throughout high school and college. Positions in student government, community leadership and even acting as the team captain for the soccer team all add to your skill set and make you a better candidate for a successful law school student.
Be Yourself and Shine
Regardless of what ends up on your law school application, make sure that your accomplishments and activities reflect your true personality. As long as you’ve been diligent with your grades and involved in building a meaningful life, law schools will be interested in hearing more about you.