From Beyond the Billable: Use Pro Bono to Build Your Practice

Monday, January 21, 2013

The current legal job market is one of the toughest the field has ever seen. The need for pro bono legal services continues to grow. More and more new lawyers are starting their own firms and looking for ways to develop their legal skills. Is there a way to reconcile all of these demands? Come to Building Your Practice Through Pro Bono and find out how three new lawyers have done just that.

Here is just a bit of what you will learn from these attorneys:

Christopher Saccardi, The Law Office of Christopher T. Saccardi 

I started my landlord-tenant practice by volunteering through the BBA Lawyer for the Day in the Boston Housing Court Program. My first trial was a pro bono case that I accepted on the morning of trial. While I was moderately terrified to be conducting a trial with very little experience, I soon realized that my client was very grateful to have any attorney representing her, even one with limited experience. And even more surprising, the judge was also happy to deal with an attorney during the trial as opposed to a pro se litigant. Because I was clearly inexperienced, the judge was extra patient with me and as a result, not only was I able to help out a deserving client but I learned a great deal through the experience.

As I gained experience through pro bono cases, I started to build up my own caseload of paying clients, drawing upon what I learned through volunteering and taking advantage of the network of mentors and colleagues I had built up through my work.

Thomas Beauvais, Attorney at Law 

Once my license arrived in the mail, I started the process of opening my practice. In my brief time networking with other solos, I have found most have difficulty with the business side of the practice: how to get enough clients, what to charge those clients, and where to meet them. My biggest obstacle was the product itself, what area of law to practice.

I knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to practice in criminal law, family law or personal injury. Not that there aren’t very deserving clients in those areas, or that there aren’t some truly amazing attorneys practicing this law, I just knew it wasn’t for me. I did, however, want to litigate. Looking back at my list of eliminations, one might notice the Venn Diagram of my options was rather narrow. From my perspective at the time, there was no overlap. Nevertheless, I began looking for pro bono opportunities to keep myself busy. Thankfully, I came across Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP). Every Wednesday, VLP hosts a Fair Debt Collection Clinic at the Boston Municipal Court. Not only would they allow any attorney with a free Wednesday morning to actually represent clients in a civil litigation setting, but they train them to do it well. After my first appearance, I was hooked.

Alison Silber, Law Offices of Alison Silber

I have a large VLP caseload—three cases at a time plus I mentor two other volunteers—and, in return, the VLP staff often answer questions for me about my non-VLP cases. They also provide me templates of motions/Proposed findings/etc. for my non-VLP cases.

In addition to taking cases with VLP, their lunches are a great opportunity to network and bounce ideas off of more experienced attorneys. I attend the large lunches whenever I can, plus VLP hosts a small, monthly Family Law brownbag that I find invaluable. I have developed two mentors from that circle. Each time I come with a list of questions from my non-VLP cases, and they always get answered.

Click here for more information and to register for Building Your Practice Through Pro Bono, January 23 at 12:30 pm.