Giving Back: A Guide for Lawyers
America is a generous nation of volunteers. In 2014, about 25.3% of Americans volunteered, contributing about 7.9 billion hours and a value of close to $184 billion to the economy. In Louisiana alone, there were 647,370 volunteers contributing 58.7 million hours of value to the state.
Volunteers include students, retirees, and professionals. Attorneys have a unique opportunity to contribute because they have skills in high demand. Many people in New Orleans and across Louisiana are in need of legal services but cannot afford them, and attorneys play a crucial role in providing services to these and others in the community
Why Give Back?
The attorneys at Irpino, Avin & Hawkins Law Firm have made a commitment to give back to New Orleans and other Louisiana communities. Our experiences with volunteering have shown giving back comes with many benefits, including:
- Team Building. Our attorneys have worked closely on a number of volunteering and charitable projects, and the experience of working together for a greater good makes a positive impact on teamwork and office morale.
- Community Involvement. Attorneys work long hours, and even having a legal office doesn’t mean becoming part of the community. Becoming involved in community projects and charitable works, however, forges links in the community and lets attorneys get to know their neighbors.
- Personal Reward. Our attorneys find it immensely rewarding to help others. Being able to make a positive difference in other people’s lives is an affirming experience.
- Networking. Working in the community means meeting other people — including people who might one day become clients.
- Building Skills. Volunteering for lawyers often means using their legal skills to help others. This helps keeps legal knowledge fresh and can even help attorneys build on their expertise.
How Lawyers Can Give Back
Attorneys have busy schedules, so sometimes volunteering and charitable work can fall by the wayside. Many lawyers are concerned about providing their clients with the best possible services, and that can mean long hours at the office. Finding time to volunteer, however, has many benefits, and attorneys are in the fortunate position of being able to make a unique continuation in their communities.
Before volunteering, attorneys should take stock by:
1) Determining How They Wish to Give
Are you able to give financial resources, time or your legal knowledge to a charity? Consider which groups, individuals and organizations you want to support.
2) Considering Needs and Abilities
If you are early in your career, you may look for legal-based volunteer opportunities to build your expertise and your resume while also helping others. If you are looking to make a career transition, however, or are already established, you may want to branch out beyond your legal abilities and find an opportunity to contribute other skills.
Consider, too, your abilities. How much time are you able to contribute to a cause? Can you make a long-term commitment? If you decide to give financially, how much can you contribute? What skills, besides your legal skills, do you have? For example, if you have writing as well as legal skills, you may want to support an arts organization for writers. If you work well with children, you may want to offer legal services to families in need.
Only about 23.3% of legal professionals volunteer largely using their professional skills. The rest rely on other skills, so don’t feel confined to just offering your professional services. There are many options so you can find the right fit for you.
3) Setting Goals
Determine what you want to get from your volunteer experience. Do you want to get to know people in your community, expand your legal expertise, enjoy new job opportunities or simply do good? You can get many benefits, but knowing what you’re looking for can help you find the right volunteering fit.
4) Considering Individual and Team Efforts
If you can, consider getting your entire legal office involved. You’ll be able to get to know each other and make a greater impact by working together, and the entire legal firm can benefit from volunteering.
Looking for Opportunities
There are many places attorneys can look for volunteer opportunities and charitable opportunities, including:
1) Legal Volunteer Organizations
There are organizations dedicated to helping attorneys find fulfilling volunteer work. For example, H.E.L.P. is a group pairing attorneys with homeless individuals in need of legal services. The group sets up legal clinics for homeless individuals, and lawyers can volunteer their time for these clinics.
2) General Volunteer Organizations
The LinkedIn For Good program, VolunteerMatch and Catchafire can help you find local organizations looking for volunteers. These programs match people with causes in need. If you want to find opportunities across the country or around the world, MovingWorlds.org matches volunteers to international projects.
3) Your Local Community
Your local schools, children’s hospitals and organizations have a need for legal advice and for volunteers. Colleges and universities also often hold free legal clinics for students and need attorneys. You can contact interesting charities and groups directly or support fundraisers. Local events can be an especially great way to contribute. You and your legal team can build a float for a parade, run in a fundraising marathon or sponsor a project you believe in. You can choose to build a house for Habitat for Humanity as a law firm or take part in another project your law firm is enthusiastic about.
4) Your Law Office
Pro bono work is one of the simplest ways to help people who need legal services but may not be able to find them or may not know about free legal clinics. When you see someone in need taking advantage of your free consultations but is unable to act further on a legitimate claim, you can choose to provide pro bono work.
E-volunteering lets you share your skills and time with groups from all over the world, simply by using a mobile device or computer. You can find volunteer positions through groups such as UN Volunteers, Skills for Change, World Volunteer Web and others.
If you have a busy schedule and cannot easily get to volunteering opportunities, e-volunteering lets you donate time when you have moments free. Online volunteering even lets you “micro-volunteer,” which involves minimal commitments of just a few minutes for an online project.
6) The News
The news is filled with stories of people needing assistance. The parents of the student facing discrimination or bullying at school might appreciate some legal advice. The neighborhood organization wanting to set up a community garden might need a contract signed or a lease drawn up. The new arts group for writers in your area might be delighted to work with an attorney who can look over publisher contracts. There are plenty of news stories pointing the way to people in need.
How Can You Give?
Attorneys have plenty of ways to share their knowledge, resources and time:
1) Become a Mentor
Becoming a mentor is a commitment, but it can make a profound impact on someone who wants to be an attorney. Whether you let a law student shadow you, mentor someone formally one-on-one or even set up a Mastermind group for law students, your experiences and support can mean a lot to a student who might not know any successful attorneys.
2) Share Your Education
Your knowledge is valuable, as everyone getting a legal bill or paying tuition at a law school knows well. There are many ways you can share your education:
- Offer to give free talks
- Publish a column in a local publication about legal topics
- Publish a blog answering legal questions
- Offer to teach a free class at a community center or bar association
- Write pamphlets to help explain basic legal principles to people who need to know them
- Tutor a law student
3) Get Physical
Cancer awareness month gives you the opportunity to shave your head for charity, while in November, you could grow a mustache for cancer research. You can also join marathons, bike-a-thons and hike-a-thons to raise money for a cause.
4) Be an Attorney
If a group wants to start up an advocacy group for disabled veterans, they might need an attorney to look over a lease for an office or the paperwork to register as a non-profit. If someone in your office needs legal advice or representation but can’t afford it, you can do what you do best pro bono to make a difference.
5) Set up a Non-Profit
A non-profit allows you to raise money for special projects and lets you connect friends, family and colleagues in the same cause. By pooling your knowledge and time together, you can make an even greater impact.
6) Volunteer as a Mediator
Homeowner’s associations, community groups, and other organizations may need a mediator to resolve issues and disputes — before those problems become legal matters. Offering your negotiating skills as a mediator can help members of your community while helping you to contribute.
7) Serve on a Board
Non-profit groups, advocacy organizations, arts councils, educational institutions and just about every sort of organization relies on a board to make decisions, solve problems and create regulations. Many of these boards can benefit from having someone with legal and negotiation experience — such as an attorney.
Keep on Giving
Hopefully, once you and your legal team put forth an effort to make a difference, the possibility of creating a legacy and the benefits you enjoy will encourage you to keep going. Attorneys, however, are very busy professionals, so keeping the giving spirit active may require some effort. Here are ways to keep your law firm’s hearts generous:
1) Schedule Contributions and Goals
Make giving a part of your planning for yourself or your law firm. Write down volunteer hours in your calendar, as you would write down any important appointment. Set goals for yourself and your firm, just as you set revenue or client goals. Having goals and hours written down helps you to make charitable work an important part of your time.
2) Recognize and Celebrate the Good You Do
Keep track of the money you give, the hours you donate, the money you raise and the difference you make. Celebrate with your team when you reach a milestone — such as 100 pro bono hours served — to keep enthusiasm high. Meet with people and talk to them about what your work has done. Sometimes, taking a look at your contributions or hearing from others about how your work has made an impact can inspire you to give more.
3) Fight Donor Fatigue
Donor fatigue occurs when philanthropists lose enthusiasm and stop making contributions. This can happen because people lose hope that their efforts make a difference or because they are overwhelmed by more requests for help. There are a few ways you can fight donor fatigue:
- Be reasonable about what you can give. If you work long hours, you may only be able to volunteer a few additional hours. Accept this and put in modest hours rather than trying to overextend yourself.
- Learn to say no. Once you start giving, you may receive many requests from many organizations. You can’t help everyone, and while this can be difficult to accept, you will make the biggest impact by contributing as much as you can to those projects you feel most strongly about. Saying no to others allows them to seek out volunteers that are a better match.
- Get excited about new projects. You may have a few organizations you are especially close to or causes you believe in. Perhaps you’re passionate about pro bono work, for example, or mentoring law students. Every once in a while, however, it can be a good idea to try a new short-term charitable project outside your comfort zone. It will let you work with new people and extend your skills more.
The attorneys at Irpino, Avin & Hawkins Law Firm have seen for themselves what a difference attorneys can make in the New Orleans and Louisiana communities. Our law firm is proud of our efforts to give back to the community. We have contributed in many ways as a law firm, including supporting chaplain work in jails and hospitals and creating a food line to make sandwiches for a local mission. Our founder, Anthony Irpino, has been a strong supporter of H.E.L.P. (Homeless Experience Legal Protection), the Harry S. Thompson Center, Ozanam Inn and affordable housing programs.
If you are an attorney, we hope you’ll join us in giving of your legal expertise and time to make a lasting change in your community and country.