4 tips to make time for pro bono and volunteer work

Pro bono work is on the mind of most lawyers—even if they don’t always have time to follow through with their good intentions. And while pro bono work isn’t required by the ethical rules governing attorneys, it is encouraged. The ABA Model Rules say lawyers should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico “for the public good” legal services every year.

While many large firms have official programs in place to carry out the recommendation, big-law attorneys are often so swamped with billable hours that pro bono cases get lost in the shuffle. And for solo practitioners and lawyers who work for small firms, it can be even more difficult to carve out time for it. Many attorneys would like to spend more time on pro bono cases—it’s the reason a lot of them went to law school in the first place—but find themselves so busy with regular caseloads that it takes a backseat.

The good news? It’s possible to do pro bono work (maybe even more than those 50 hours per year!) without breaking the time bank. All it takes is a bit of scheduling and some motivation.

Here are a few tips on finding the time for pro bono work. You’ll be glad you did.

1. Get motivated

Motivation is the first step in turning pro bono work from a back-of-your-mind aspiration to a reality. After all, it’s difficult to make something happen if you don’t have a good reason to do it.

So before you carve out time on your calendar or sign up to volunteer at the first free legal clinic that pops onto your radar, take a few minutes to think about why pro bono is important to you. Maybe when you went to law school, you had lofty goals of helping those less fortunate than you. Maybe there are some common pro bono issues—domestic violence, landlord-tenant, or immigration, for instance—that are close to your heart. Or maybe you simply like to follow the rules and you want to meet that ABA mandate.

Whatever your reasoning, it’s helpful to connect with your inner do-gooder before you jump headfirst into pro bono.

2. Find something you enjoy

Once you have a positive headspace surrounding the idea of pro bono work, it’s important to find something you enjoy. That motivation you just cultivated will go out the window if you force yourself to do work that you don’t like—especially if you’re doing it for free.

Pro bono work is a great opportunity to experience a different area of the law. Maybe you’ve always wanted to see what practicing family law would be like: With pro bono work, you can dip a toe into the practice area without changing your career. Or, on the other side of the coin, it can be an opportunity to use the skills you’ve amassed in your niche area and apply it to doing good for others.

Another thing to consider is your preferences. Maybe you’d like to volunteer in a free legal aid clinic, or perhaps you’d rather take an alternative route and participate in a legal hackathon that solves Access to Justice issues. Whether it’s one of those options or something entirely different, take a moment to think about the environment in which you’d be most comfortable and effective.

3. Schedule dedicated time on your calendar

Once something is on your calendar, it’s real! That’s especially true for attorneys. Whether you’ve decided to volunteer at a clinic, do paperwork for pro bono clients out of your own office, participate in an legal tech hackathon, or something else entirely, create time slots for your pro bono work. Pick out an hour a week or a four-hour block every month, put it on your calendar, and stick to it. Once you get into a pro bono routine, it’ll be second nature.

4. Make it fun

Volunteer work can be fun–and that includes legal volunteer work. Invite coworkers and lawyer friends to do pro bono work with you. It can do double duty and serve as a great way to spend time with colleagues.