This past spring I participated in an expungement clinic organized by a local legal aid office. I quickly realized that the experience offered so much more than just the positive feelings that come from volunteering in one’s community.
Let me first pause to say that I have no prior experience with criminal expungement matters. My small firm practice focused on health care law. So on this particular Saturday morning, I had the chance to learn about a new area of practice that was an interest of mine back in law school. The legal aid staff provided concise, practical on-site training before we met with the clinic clients. Then, volunteer attorneys met with clients to evaluate their documentation and provide guidance on their eligibility for an expungement. It was personally rewarding to provide individualized attention to a person who might not otherwise have the access or the means to obtain legal advice on an issue directly impacting his or her daily life.
What I hadn’t realized when I signed up to participate was how much I would also enjoy interacting with the other volunteer attorneys. In daily practice, focused on the work immediately in front of you, it is easy to forget how little we are interacting with other attorneys in a meaningful way. The volunteer attorneys at the clinic came from a wide variety of practice areas, had stories to share about their work, and offered a collegial opportunity to interact beyond the often-adversarial interactions of law practice. As attorneys it can be easy to become isolated—in your practice area, in your firm, in your bubble. Pro bono activities can offer the chance to step out and look at the law and our colleagues in the bar in a new light.
Whether through opportunities offered by local legal aid organizations, state bar initiatives
, or informal person-to-person service, the benefits of pro bono service can positively impact the attorney as much as it does the community around you.