Why did you become a lawyer?
The answer to that question differs from attorney to attorney, but a frequent response is, “To help people.” As individuals, many lawyers wanted to go to law school because they’re hands-on. They want to find solutions and be part of the ultimate resolution.
Love Your Lawyer Day, which is celebrated November 6, is an excellent occasion to re-engage with your desire to help people and better your community. The American Bar Association agrees. In its declaration to recognize the first Friday in November as Love Your Lawyer Day, it highlighted the important role lawyers play in their communities by providing “affirmative contributions to the public good and the administration of justice.”
The first benefit to volunteering is that it helps people, groups, and organizations that could use some assistance. But volunteering helps the individual volunteer, too. The benefits to volunteering are varied, but here are three major positives that volunteering can provide to lawyers:
- Volunteering increases your own happiness and positivity: Using studies from the London School of Economics, researchers at Harvard Medical School found that among American adults, those who volunteered reported being “very happy” 16 percent more than those who never volunteered. That held true for subjects who volunteered twice a month (12 percent) and volunteered once a month (7 percent). Time and time again, professionals who study happiness from a psychological perspective have found a link between volunteering and a general sense of happiness, most likely because volunteering helps people feel better about themselves and the world around them.
- Volunteering expands your network: When you volunteer, you meet new people and form connections you might not have had the chance to make otherwise. The United Way puts it well: “When you volunteer, you open the door to meeting new people while having a positive effect on the organization you partner with and the overall community.” Humans are social creatures, and breadth and variety in our social connections helps us feel grounded and connected. This is an especially noteworthy benefit for lawyers, because at any size firm, law is a relationship-based business. Don’t think of volunteering as a business development activity (although it can be). Rather, think of it as good practice for your social skills and ability to connect with others.
- Volunteering may reduce stress levels: Over time, many lawyers come to feel burned out, stressed and/or depressed. Volunteering is one way to fight that trajectory. According to the Mayo Clinic, “by savoring time spent in service to others, you will feel a sense of meaning and appreciation, both given and received, which can have a stress-reducing effect.”
If you’d like to start volunteering (or get back involved with it after having taken a break) but aren’t sure where to start, here are five means of volunteering you could to think about.
- Mentor a newer attorney: Law school is very different from practicing, and established attorneys sometimes forget that newer lawyers are on unsure footing. If you have the opportunity, forming a professional relationship with a lawyer who’s newer to the profession would probably be very welcome. It can be as simple as a monthly coffee in which you discuss how his or her work is going, or it can be more formal and structured and involve coaching and goal-setting. Mentoring a new attorney is an easy and excellent way to give back to the profession that’s given you so much—and to help an individual on his or her way to being a strong member to the field of law.
- Give a presentation to a local school: One aim of Love Your Lawyer today is to give the general public a better sense of who lawyers are and what kind of work they do. You can help meet that goal by giving a presentation about the legal field to a local school. Elementary-age children would benefit from coming to an understanding of what a lawyer does, and high schoolers would find it useful to hear an attorney talk about his or her work so they can consider law as a profession.
- Pitch in at a local or regional legal aid group: It’s not generalizing to say that almost all legal aid groups could use another lawyer to chip in as they reach out to underserved communities. This is often an appealing option for attorneys, because it’s a lawyer-specific opportunity.
- Connect with a group outside the legal community: Many worthy causes need your help, but as a person rather than a lawyer. Even if your volunteerism doesn’t call on your abilities as a lawyer, it serves the goals of Love Your Lawyer Day by showing people an attorney who is committed to his or her beliefs and willing to work for them.
- Connect with a law school: Many law schools are happy to have attorneys meet with students for career preparation, guest lectures, and mentoring. This is a great way to serve both attorneys-to-be and your profession at large.
Love Your Lawyer Day isn’t until November 6, but FindLaw is starting the celebration early with an October 28 event that will feature motivational speaker Brett Culp, documentary filmmaker and founder of the not-for-profit The Rising Heroes Project. Register today—the first 100 participants will receive a Love Your Lawyer Day t-shirt.
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