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Is pro bono work absolutely essential to progress as a lawyer?

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Pro Bono work is a feat most industry climbers have to face, but as a budding lawyer, how important is it to do ‘free work’? Here Emma Jones, Lecturer in Law and member of the Open Justice team at The Open University Law School talks Lawyer Monthly through the concepts behind pro bono legal work and the impact it can have on one’s career progression.

The short answer is yes.

Pro bono work, or work undertaken “for the public good,” is an integral part of law and the legal profession. Most large law firms and organisations have a formal programme of pro bono work for their employees to participate in. Many smaller firms and bodies also have either formal, or more informal, schemes in place and encourage such activities.

For many involved in such work there is a sense of “giving something back” to the community. As law students and lawyers, we have valuable knowledge and skills which relatively few people possess. Therefore, some would argue we have a form of moral or societal obligation to use these legal capabilities to promote social justice by assisting those in need. Of course, there is also evidence that acting in an altruistic manner, with a motivation to help people, is great for your own wellbeing too!

Many law schools in the UK also have clinical legal education programmes, enabling their students to undertake pro bono work. This may be in an extra-curricular form, or as part of an assessed course. Although social justice is a significant motivation for this work, it also reflects an increasing recognition of the valuable legal skills and experience that pro bono work provides. For law students it means you can gain practice in applying existing legal skills in new contexts. For example, you may be used to researching the law for assignments, but undertaking practical legal research and applying it to ‘real life’ situations involves taking into account a much wider range of practical considerations and sources.

In addition, pro bono work gives you the opportunity to develop new skills that don’t usually feature in an undergraduate law degree. For example, practising interviewing clients, presenting to different bodies of people and writing and drafting legal documents. If you decide to go into legal practice, you will be able to demonstrate that you have practised and honed a wide range of legal skills. If you don’t end up in the legal profession, you will find lots of these skills easily transfer to other work environments. As an illustration, virtually any role you undertake is likely to involve working in a team and communicating clearly, abilities that are key to pro bono work.

The experiences that pro bono work provides are also very valuable. It may be that it introduces you to a new area of law you’ve never considered before. It may alter some of your pre-conceptions of what legal practice will be like. It might make you think about other roles within the legal field that you’d previously discarded, for example, teaching law.

To sum up, pro bono work is valuable in many ways. If you are offered an opportunity to do pro bono work, grab it with both hands. If you haven’t been given the chance yet, start to explore potential opportunities near you (a simple internet search is a great starting point). In terms of both public and personal good, it offers real benefits for all.

This article was originally published in Lawyer Monthly. Click to read the original article.