By Roxanne Shirley, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP
While traditional volunteering is rewarding, I'm told, you won't catch me with a habitat hammer in my hand, and no flower survives if I plant it. I cannot referee a soccer match or repair a car for a single mom or teach English as a second language. In fact, there are so many things I cannot do as a volunteer that I find it a relief to do something I CAN.
Work that is pro bono (latin meaning "for the public good") is "professional work that is undertaken voluntarily and without payment that uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them." (Thanks, Wikipedia.) And in the legal realm, those specific skills do not necessitate having a J.D.
As a paralegal, I have had the opportunity to volunteer at clinics for the preparation of end-of-life documents for low-income clients, veterans, first responders and Holocaust survivors. I have been able to assist with intake at walk-in free legal advice clinics, and even my notary stamp has kerchunked its way through a variety of pro bono documents. Along the way, my eyes and ears have been opened to others' experiences and lives; I am always wiser and kinder after participating in a pro bono event.
When a client walks away with those questions answered or that document prepared, the relief reflected in his or her face is readily apparent; and I had a small chance to make this red-taped world a better place. I do hope the public has been changed for the better through my efforts, but through pro bono activities (to borrow the words of Ms. Idina Menzel), I have been changed for good. Whether it is a legal event in which your own firm chooses to participate as a group or you individually take the opportunity to help with an IndyBar program such as Ask A Lawyer or the Free Wills Clinics, pro bono work is indeed for the public good – and personally I reap the benefits, too.
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