I may be naïve, but I like to think a lot of people choose careers in the law because they want to have a positive impact on the world.
Perhaps they’re staunch believers in justice, or they have an interest in civil rights, or they want to defend the Constitution. Whatever the reason, they think they can make the world a better place and they see the legal profession as a vehicle to drive them toward that goal.
And then reality hits.
Look, I’m not judging. I went into law school with lofty dreams of being a civil rights lawyer. Then, as my graduation date drew near, large private law firms started waving lucrative offers in my face. As a kid who grew up poor, I couldn’t resist.
I opted for the big check…
And I never stopped regretting it.
I don’t think my story is all that unusual, really. Whether you’re an attorney, paralegal, or law clerk, the truth is that private firms tend to pay a lot more than public interest work.
The other truth is that most of us need the extra cash to live on.
The good news is, there are ways you can use your legal training to better the world, even if you’re stuck in a job that doesn’t feed your soul. And while this “do-good” work will inevitably end up costing you some of your free time, we’re guessing you (and the world) will feel better for it.
Here are some of our favorite opportunities for legal professionals who want to make a difference:
Lawyers Without Borders (“LWB”)
Thanks to the magic of television, many people have heard of Doctors Without Borders.
But did you know a similar organization exists that allows legal professionals to spread justice around the globe?
According to its website, LWB “engages with lawyers and judges dedicated to pro bono service and integrates them into initiatives that directly or indirectly serve the underserved, protect the disadvantaged, and promote human rights.”
Some of their projects involve human trafficking, wildlife trafficking, counter-terrorism, and child labor.
Importantly, you don’t have to be a lawyer or even have a law degree to volunteer. Indeed, LWB sometimes needs assistance with administrative and research tasks, so this is a great opportunity for law clerks and paralegals as well.
We the Action (“WtA”)
We the Action is a clearinghouse of sorts for legal professionals looking for volunteer opportunities. While most opportunities are geared toward lawyers, a careful review of the offerings on the site reveal that non-lawyer professionals are sometimes needed.
WtA is interesting in its breadth of opportunities.
It not only links volunteers to various organizations that need pro bono legal assistance, but it also provides opportunities to work on specific projects on a one-off basis.
Consequently, WtA is a perfect venue if you don’t have time for a long, on-going commitment to an organization.
Election Protection is a national, nonpartisan coalition that “works year-round to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to vote and have that vote count.”
These people are passionate about access to voting. They not only provide information and assistance to voters, but document problems in the voting process should legal proceedings become necessary to protect voter rights.
Importantly, the organization’s call for legal volunteers specifically includes lawyers, paralegals, and other legal professionals.
Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (“VLA)
If you, like many lawyers, gave up your passion for writing, art, or music to pursue a legal career, then working with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts may be just the opportunity for you.
This organization strives to “protect the artistic community’s livelihoods, businesses, and creative works through access to dedicated legal representation and focused education programs.”
In case you’re wondering what lawyers can do for artists, the answer is “a lot.”
VLA provides counsel to artists on “intellectual property issues, contracts, applications for an artist visa, or incorporation of arts-related businesses and nonprofits.” VLA also provides on-demand courses for artists seeking information on the legal issues impacting their work.
For all of the big firm legal professionals out there looking for firm-wide opportunities, consider looking into Trust Law.
A division of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Trust Law connects “high-impact NGOs and social enterprises working to create social and environmental change with the best law firms and corporate legal teams, to provide them with free legal assistance.”
One of the things we love about Trust Law is that it allows entire departments to sign up to work on pro bono matters together. By doing this, it allows legal teams — who, let’s face it, are often burned out and bored — to ignite passion together by doing good for the world.
International Senior Lawyers Project (“ISLP”)
One of the legal profession’s dirty little secrets is that a huge percentage of the pro bono work that is done by lawyers is actually done by very junior lawyers. Big law firms, in particular, deploy armies of recent law school grads into various volunteer settings in the hopes that they’ll cut their teeth on things like litigation and negotiations before the firm’s clients have to actually pay for their services.
That’s what makes the International Senior Lawyers Project so intriguing.
According to the organization’s website, ISLP “provides top-tier pro bono legal services to three primary groups of clients — governments, civil society actors, and social enterprises.”
So, even if you’re a highly-experienced senior partner who is growing disillusioned with your practice, there’s a place for you to lend your experience.
You can make a difference
We hope some of these organizations resonated with you.
If not, don’t despair. There are almost as many volunteering opportunities as there are lawyers.
And while your efforts may not change the entire world, they’ll certainly change you.
In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, “Volunteering reduces stress and increases positive, relaxed feelings by releasing dopamine. By spending time in service to others, volunteers report feeling a sense of meaning and appreciation, both given and received, which can have a stress-reducing effect.”
That’s something we could all use a dose of.
Meanwhile, if your legal career doesn’t feel as satisfying as it used to, there are other things you can do to rekindle your passion. Download our free eBook on How to fall back in love with your legal career here.
This eBook is designed to help you identify the reasons you’re feeling less engaged, then take action to address those issues and get your groove back. Don’t miss it.