Attorney Opportunities for Volunteers

Volunteering is a great way to gain enriching experiences while helping others. It can also simultaneously bolster your vocational value and salary expectations when volunteering in your career field of choice. Volunteer opportunities for prospective attorneys provide all these benefits and many more.

Some law firms require all potential new employees to have a certain level of field experience before being hired. The American Bar Association (ABA) requires practicing attorneys to complete a minimum of fifty hours pro bono legal work each year. One U.S. state requires those fifty hours to be completed prior to allowing law students to even apply for its bar examination. Volunteering at a law firm not only helps fulfill those requirements, it helps you understand if the culture at a particular firm is the best fit for you as an aspiring new attorney.

Job openings are valuable and sometimes rare commodities in the legal field. Documenting volunteer hours at the firm of your choice can help your name rise to the top of a resume list due to experience and familiarity. Read on to learn more about the benefits of volunteering at a law firm and what job opportunities it could open up in the future.

General Types of Volunteer Opportunities for New Attorneys

There are many general types of volunteer opportunities for new attorneys. Some are required aspects of obtaining a hired position. Others expand your experience levels while allowing you to help others in need. Many law firms offer internships. Some have volunteer paralegal positions available. Others have expanded outreach or legal aid divisions where certain legal services are provided to clients free-of-charge. 

The latter scenarios are viable ways to fulfill ABA pro bono requirements while also developing a professional rapport with the hiring staff inside law firms. When seeking employment, be sure to clearly express your intentions of becoming a full-time hire prior to agreeing to any volunteer work. This will differentiate you from other volunteers simply donating their time or fulfilling state and/or ABA requirements.

New York State Pro Bono Bar Examination Requirements

Every U.S. state can apply its own additional adaptation to the minimum annual ABA pro bono requirement hours. These adaptations are applied to already-practicing attorneys in every state except one. New York State requires all law students to complete a minimum of fifty hours pro bono services prior to being allowed to apply for its bar examination. This is unique to all other U.S. states, making New York a great state in which to meet bar requirements while also gaining valuable experience specific to potentially-hiring law firms in your field.

How to Find Attorney Volunteer Opportunities

The ABA publishes a resource guide listing pro bono and volunteer opportunities nationwide. The Volunteer Lawyers Network provides a handbook, which lists volunteer needs in varied areas of practiced law. Each state bar website also lists attorney volunteer opportunities in applicable companies and regions. An additional way to discover attorney volunteer opportunities is to contact law firms directly and ask about position openings. Many law firms will also list applicable volunteer openings and provide contact/application forms on their respective websites. 

Specific Legal Organizations with Volunteer Opportunities     

Volunteer work in the legal world reaches beyond networking and meeting ABA requirements. Some legal organizations support specific causes, demographics and communities. There are targeted client populations such as children’s and veteran’s advocacy groups. There are international volunteer opportunities and immigration advocacy organizations. Reentry assistance exists for citizens re-acclimating to society after spending time in prison. Reentry assistance helps ensure people leaving prison are treated fairly and avoid unlawful discrimination. A few legal organizations with specific volunteer opportunities include:

The Green Pro Bono project provides legal services for non-profits, environmental advocacy groups and social entrepreneurs. Local Housing Solutions is a legal service providing assistance for victims of housing discrimination. There are ABA-sponsored student-run programs as well. There is no shortage of current volunteer opportunities for attorneys in various types of law. Finding a match for your needs and passions can be as simple as conducting an online search.                      

Benefits of Volunteering at a Law Firm    

The benefits of volunteering at a law firm can be as numerous and varied as the types of law available to be practiced. The first benefit is meeting all your annual ABA pro bono requirements. The second benefit is developing rapport and familiarity with law firms for which you wish to work. Proving ambition, skill sets and a solid work ethic in advance of an actual hiring interview only serves to improve your chances of being hired. 

There is a mindset among some practicing attorneys, which states initially doing volunteer work at the law firm where you wish to be hired can undermine eventual salary demands and hiring viability. This is because a precedent of doing free work is set prior to making salary demands. While there is some validity to this mindset, it is neither definitive nor consistent. Communication is key when volunteering at a law firm of your choice. Stating goals and reasons for volunteering to hiring staff is a significant step in establishing eventual vocational value and salary expectations. 

Benefits expand beyond salary and hiring viability, however. There are humanitarian benefits experienced when volunteering for legal aid or pro bono services. Certain areas of law are self-fulfilling. Helping others improve their lives and situations can be of great personal and societal benefit. There are still of course the networking and publicity benefits associated with legal volunteer work. Taking on high profile pro bono cases can help vault your professional profile to the top of many searches and conversations. This can lead to better jobs, opportunities and positions than initially expected. The benefits of volunteering are numerous and available to be taken advantage of today.