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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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