Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said: “Whatever community organization, whether it’s a women’s organization, or fighting for racial justice … you will get satisfaction out of doing something to give back to the community that you never get in any other way.” There are hundreds, maybe thousands of ways to give back to your community, whether it is your legal community, your hometown, or the larger, global community. Many believe it is our duty to volunteer, that we owe it to the world and our society to give back through charitable works. That may be reason enough for many, but there are other reasons that may seem more selfish than selfless, but if the end result is a world with more giving, the rationale shouldn’t matter. Working for a charity or nonprofit may help restore balance to your busy life, teach your children the benefits of donating your time, with the collateral benefit of expanding your professional and personal network. The hardest part is getting started, and finding the right fit for your skills, personal interests, passions and experience.
Many attorneys choose to tap into their skill set as a mentor and trained attorney by volunteering to help young lawyers through participating in local moot court competitions, acting as a faculty member for a continuing legal education seminar, or serving as a panelist at a law school career program or a young lawyers’ event at a local bar association. These types of activities require little, if any, preparation because personal experience is all that is needed or required. Law students and young lawyers always want to hear from a diverse group of experienced attorneys to hear the various paths available to lawyers after law school. Being a panelist or moot court judge is an easy way to make yourself available to the next generation of attorneys. It also gives you a sneak peek of local talent who are just beginning their career or may be coming into the marketplace in the future, and one of them may be a superstar associate and future partner in the making.
If you want to get a break from your legal life while contributing to your community, there are an infinite number of ways to participate in local, national, and global organizations. Many nonprofits seek to include an attorney as one of their community board members who can provide legal advice to the organization. This can be in tandem with formal representation of that organization through your firm, or can be just intermittent representation based on the needs of the organization. Regardless, nonprofits appreciate board members with business and legal acumen to serve. Other opportunities that may not take too much time include: tutoring through a nonprofit educational organization; volunteering at an event for a local charity, such as a road race or fundraiser; or simply participating in activities such as a clean-up of your local parks and trail systems. These types of activities can be done as your personal schedule allows, and don’t require any long-term commitment. In addition, volunteering for fundraisers, race staff at a charity race or other events can include your family so you can combine your community participation with family time. Families can also volunteer together at food banks, community farms, or soup kitchens without committing to a regular schedule, which often is not feasible with the erratic schedule of an attorney. Your local schools, churches, and community centers also will also need help from the whole family.
Longer-term commitments are always needed, such as acting as a big brother or big sister, taking on organizational helm for a fundraiser in an organization, or volunteering to do pro bono work through the Courts or a local legal aid organization. You can also look to your local government for opportunities to serve on a town committee or board, some of which are not elected positions. If you are unaware of the types of organizations in your area, there are a host of websites that can help you find the right fit, such as volunteermatch.org, doinggoodtogether.org, and globalvolunteers.org. And, of course, large charities often have local chapters that need assistance, such as the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
You can reap infinite rewards if you find a way to volunteer your time that helps utilize your professional skills, personal experience and any passions you might have. Finding the right fit for your personality, interests, and the time you have available can help you achieve a balance in your life, which is often extremely difficult to do, especially if you have a busy practice. At the risk of overusing platitudes, I leave you with this thought from Tom Brokaw: “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”