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Blomquist - Using Your Powers for Good: Build Your Practice with Pro Bono

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blomquist-kerryOctober is Pro Bono Awareness Month, so it makes sense for me to focus this column on pro bono work. Before your eyes glaze over and you start looking for pictures of people you know elsewhere in this publication, stick with me for a minute. Sure, there are the obvious warm and fuzzy “volunteer to save the world” arguments for practicing pro bono publico service, and if you know my professional history, you know I believe them all. I think I am as warm and fuzzy and altruistic as I can be while still making my mortgage payments. I believe that doing pro bono work increases your engagement, satisfaction and longevity in this profession and that in turns benefits us in all ways long term.

But here is a side we don’t speak about: How pro bono work can be a critical part of building your practice. Yes, pro bono service can carry very tangible benefits, and frankly too few people remember that.

Early on in my legal career, I was oblivious to pro bono publico. I admit it—I worked for a pretty big firm, I was a junior associate to a senior associate to a junior partner to a senior partner (yup—never saw a client), but I loved it and I loved the people I worked for. Pro bono was not a true part of my practice early on because I believed I just knew enough to be dangerous. My professional world was small and focused. I had little desire to use my powers for good because I wasn’t sure I even had powers in the first place. It was the late 80’s. Women wore Ricky Ricardo shoulder pads in their oversized blazers, permed their hair, were mentored by Susan Dey on “LA Law” and were in large part singularly focused on “making it” in what at that time was a predominantly male profession. I was mentored by some of the best in the profession. I was carefully taught, given softball cases to cut my teeth on, and did not have to worry about building my book of business.

We’ve talked about this; about how the practice of law is changing, with more and more successful law students getting out of school only to find they have no job, no teacher, no mentor, no book of business and frankly no idea of how to start being a lawyer.1

Bluntly and unapologetically: Consider pro bono work. It can teach you new practice areas; it can expand your legal knowledge. It can help you develop new practice methods and tools, and it can increase (or even establish) your efficiency. Pro bono practice can teach you cross-cultural skills and expose you to a clientele you may have never tapped into. The best pro bono programs provide education, mentorship, malpractice insurance and a hand to hold onto, so you are never left to cut your teeth on your own. In short, for those young lawyers who have not had the benefit of a wonderful teacher, pro bono service can be just that. In short, pro bono service can make or transform your practice.

Not only should you do pro-bono work, (see RPC 6.1—yes, you should. I’m using my mom voice) but you should do pro bono work to become a better lawyer, too. Read: “Building Your Practice with Pro Bono for Lawyers,” a book written by former litigator, now law school professor Nelson P. Miller, who suggests that if you know the practice area you want to develop, then connect with local agencies to find the underserved pro bono clients in that field. For example, says Miller, if your intent is to increase a transactional practice rather than to represent individuals in disability, civil rights, family law or other litigation and administrative claims, then look to work with pro bono businesses and nonprofit startups. It just makes sense. Find those individuals. Serve them pro bono. They will soon bring back or refer to you paying clients in real estate, contract, IP, securities regulation and other related transaction fields.

I have to close with warm and fuzzy. It’s in my DNA. Use your powers for good—you DO have them. Once you go pro bono you will never go back because you will never have more grateful clients. Choose what you feel passionate about and do it for free. I have to throw a blatant shout out to the many friends and colleagues who have taken cases for me on a pro bono basis—and in turn, I am not shy about referring them paying clients and suggesting their work is indeed “award worthy.”

Because it is. •

1 Commercial: go to indybar.org to see the many programs this organization has created over the last few years to mentor newly minted attorneys.

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  1. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  2. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  3. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  4. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  5. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

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