“Deadlines, billing pressures, client demands, long hours, changing laws, and other demands all combine to make the practice of law one of the most stressful jobs out there,” The Balance writes. It can also be incredibly rewarding and meaningful.
To strike the right balance, a growing number of law students are seeking out volunteer opportunities and exploring the best ways to give back to their local communities. Law students in Michigan, for example, recently established the Michigan Law COVID Corps. More than 240 volunteers and law students contribute to the organization. Under the program, volunteers gather data, conduct policy research, and provide legal analysis for those in need.
Although the organization extends its services to all, there are four main task forces, including Workers’ Rights And Small Business Support, Housing Rights, Decarceration, and Voting Rights.
Volunteer Sian Last praised the ongoing effort. “The really powerful thing about being a lawyer and being a law student is the ability to help people better their situation, especially in a time when things are as difficult as they are,” Last told The Michigan Daily.
Volunteering locally and/or in-person are just some of the options available to aspiring lawyers. Law students can also take advantage of volunteer opportunities online. Those who wish to take part can apply to join the American Bar Association (ABA) Covid-19 Volunteer Project, Cancer Legal Resource Center, Disability Rights Legal Center, or the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Students may also volunteer for the United Nations (UN) or become a Law Student Liaison.
Learn more about the importance of volunteering and why it may be the perfect move for your well-being and for your legal career.
When it comes to entering the field of law and excelling in your career, the importance of volunteering cannot be overstated. Volunteering improves mental health, builds empathy, teaches you critical lessons about work/life balance, and gives you all-important networking opportunities. Here is an in-depth look at the benefits of volunteering:
- Marked mental health benefits. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Other-oriented volunteering resulted in an 8.54% increase in mental health, 9.08% in physical health, 7.35% in life satisfaction, and 11.11% in social well-being, as well as 4.30% decrease in depression.” Practicing law can be a stressful endeavor. Contribute to your emotional and physical well-being by volunteering.
- Build one-on-one connections and develop compassion. One of the most important qualities to develop as an aspiring lawyer is compassion. In many cases, your clients will be going through difficult times and those difficult times will drive them to seek out your counsel. Maintaining a good working relationship with them will depend not only on your abilities but also your compassion. Working one-on-one with others in a volunteer capacity will help you learn how to establish and maintain a good rapport with your clients.
- Learn lessons about work/life balance. Being successful as a lawyer is all about striking a healthy work/life balance. Volunteering as a law student gives you practice doing just that. To volunteer, study, and have enough time left for you, consider starting out small and/or finding volunteer opportunities that truly excite you. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to volunteer a few hours here and there for notary services rather than do hours and hours of pro-bono legal work. Another option is to make a list of what moves you. If you are passionate about advocating for foster children, children waiting to be adopted, the homeless, or domestic abuse victims, explore volunteer opportunities relevant to these interests.
- Expand your network. The importance of volunteering is not just mental. It can also have very real, tangible benefits when it comes to your career. Volunteering as a law student has the potential to greatly expand your network. Networking opens up future job opportunities and may even change the course of your career.
Volunteer at a Homeless Shelter
The importance of volunteering is extraordinarily clear when you work with homeless populations.
Volunteering at a homeless shelter allows law students to work directly with several underserved populations. By volunteering at a shelter, students may be able to help homeless veterans and other populations work through the challenges they are facing and/or get access to services they may not have access to otherwise.
For example, many homeless veterans do not have access to affordable dental services. Law students volunteering at homeless shelters can help pair veterans in need up with free and/or affordable dental work, whether they need a routine dental cleaning, cavities filled, or teeth pulled.
Volunteer at a YMCA or Daycare
Do not underestimate the importance of volunteering and volunteering in some unexpected places. For example, volunteering at your local YMCA or daycare can be surprisingly beneficial to your career, especially if you are interested in family law.
For example, if you ultimately want to work with children in any capacity — whether that means working with children during divorce, child custody disputes, adoptions, or to establish guardianship — knowing how to professionally and personally connect with young kids is a must.
Any experience with children is helpful, whether that is meeting their day-to-day needs while volunteering at a daycare center or assisting with speech therapy at your local YMCA. All of these experiences will teach you how to talk to kids and, at times, how to talk to them about difficult topics.
For a more hands-on experience, consider working with nationally recognized volunteer organizations, like Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and the Immigrant Child Advocacy Network (ICAN). “CASA is a national organization of volunteers who advocate on behalf of children going through the court system for any reason. Volunteers get to know the children and the circumstances of their lives and advocate for what is best for the child in the courts,” Best Value Schools writes. Through ICAN, law students can help immigrant children seeking asylum by volunteering pro-bono legal services.
Volunteer as a Remote or In-Person Tutor
What is the importance of volunteering as a tutor? Volunteering as a tutor affords you many different opportunities at once. Here are just a few:
- Build strong connections with young populations. As with volunteering at a daycare center or the YMCA, working as a tutor — and particularly working as a tutor of young people — can help you build critical rapport with youth populations. This rapport is necessary should you wish to practice family law, become a child support lawyer, or take an active role in the adoption process.
- Improve writing and language skills critical for passing the bar and continued legal practice. Passing the bar and working as a lawyer requires excellent written skills and excellent verbal skills. Teaching others is one of the best ways to learn. “Students who learn the material with the intention of teaching it later, perform better when tested on that material than those who learn it just for themselves,” Effectiviology reveals.
- Pick up practical time-keeping and documentation skills. Volunteering as a tutor requires you to be timely and organized. You must be on-time for tutoring sessions and organize the material to be presented. Plus, you will need to document students’ progress and demonstrate the value of your work. All of this is great practice for the heavy documentation and exceptional organizational skills required in the legal profession.
- Learn to be authoritative, professional, and kind. Working as a lawyer requires striking a delicate balance. You want your clients to know that you are well-educated in your field. You want to earn their trust and have them rely on you for counsel. At the same time, you want them to like you and turn to you, even in difficult times. Tutoring will teach you to be compassionate while imparting knowledge. That highlights the importance of volunteering; these are the exact skills you will need as you practice law.
Volunteer Alongside Professionals Providing Free Services to People in Need
Again, one of the best ways to explore the importance of volunteering is to follow your passions. First, determine if there is an issue that particularly motivates you.
For example, in 2018 alone, car crashes resulted in 40,000 fatalities. On average, up to 3 million people suffer from serious injuries in car accidents every year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a car accident happens once every 60 seconds.
That means car accident lawyers are in high demand, and there is a great deal you can do — as a volunteer and ultimately as a practicing lawyer — to help those in need after a crash. What are some things you can do?
- Work with top organizations to teach safe car maintenance practices. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Allstate, and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) all work to provide car maintenance tips to keep the roads as safe as possible. Programs may cover anything from regularly changing the oil and oil filter, a critical step that prevents engines from overheating, to how to check to see if your brakes are in proper working order.
- Volunteer your time to educate drivers about safe driving. Similarly, there are several programs out there teaching defensive driving or safe driving as well. Volunteer in whatever capacity suits you. You may be able to volunteer to help put together learning materials and safe driving programs, or you may be able to volunteer to teach these classes yourself. This type of volunteering will help with your written and verbal communication skills — skills that are essential to the future of your career.
- Volunteer to help drivers or individuals who are unable to afford legal representation. Practicing as a lawyer almost always requires some pro-bono work. Completing pro-bono hours as a law student can increase your opportunities when you graduate and pass the bar. Car accidents can leave many unable to work and/or with unrelenting medical bills. These drivers often do not have the funds to pay a lawyer on top of everything else. Volunteers, like you, who offer free services make a tremendous difference in their lives.
Similarly, some individuals may find themselves in legal quandaries following an accident. For example, a well-meaning physician may attempt to provide some medical assistance on the scene. Should anything unexpected happen, they may end up being sued down the line. These individuals are also looking for representation in court, and you can offer research and/or services for free if you believe that they were acting with the best possible intentions and want to help.
Volunteer at a Hospital
It’s hard to miss the importance of volunteering when you volunteer your time for those who truly need your help. Consider volunteering your time to help people injured through no fault of their own.
If you wish to become a personal injury lawyer, volunteer at a hospital. Work one-on-one with patients coming in for treatment and/or an examination after an accident in a public place or an accident at work. Learn what documentation and medical paperwork are necessary, and file this information away for future use. Whether you work as a personal injury lawyer or a workers compensation lawyer, you will need to relay this information to clients and relay it in sensitive circumstances, often shortly after they are in a car crash.
Plus, seeing the aftermath of a car crash first-hand will help you build empathy and truly know what your future clients are experiencing as you do your best to help them.
The importance of volunteering is undeniable, and it is that much more important for law students and young lawyers. Volunteering improves mental health, builds empathy, develops invaluable verbal skills, and imparts wisdom that only real-life experiences can teach.
Now more than ever, there is a great deal of demand for legal services — and that is putting undue stress on many lawyers. Volunteer to enjoy the mental health benefits, lower your risk of job-related depression, and to feel more fully prepared for the challenges that are to come.