Though the subject is rarely touched upon, pro-bono work is as much important for paralegals as it is for lawyers. Both the objectives and results are identical as in the case of pro bono work done by lawyers. Objectives include altruism, exposure, networking, and gathering of experience and the results obviously include achievement, contribution to society, increase in connections and exposure, and quite often – desirable job opportunities. Pro bono work on a team consisting of lawyers from a law firm or several law firms, or other organizations provides a way to get to know potential recruiters in a formal setting without the tension of facing a job interview. As such, pro bono work is good for any paralegal either preparing for his/her first job or thinking of lateral opportunities.
Under attorney supervision, the kinds of work that a paralegal may perform in pro bono programs include: Interviews, legal research, legal writing and representation at administrative hearings. Both state bar associations and local paralegal associations provide pro bono opportunities, and if you have the time on your hand, then it is good not to pass up an opportunity.
If you are interested in pro bono work, know that it is recommended by most paralegal associations. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) includes the requirement for every paralegal to aspire to contribute 24 hours of pro bono services every year. The NALA or National Association of Legal Assistants does not have such a policy spelt out in favor of pro bono work. Nevertheless the Model Standards and Guidelines for Utilization of Legal Assistants of NALA mention that the working relationship between a lawyer and the legal assistant should extend to cooperative public service activities where feasible. The ABA also has a Standing Committee on Paralegals, which is quite active and promotes paralegal participation in pro bono work.
Those looking for concrete opportunities in pro bono work that would reflect and help one's career should access online The National Pro Bono Volunteer Opportunities Guide. Other good resources include the NFA Pro Bono Directory of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations or the ABA's “How to Utilize Legal Assistants In Pro Bono Publico Programs.”
A bone of contention that persists and one should be clear about despite attorney supervision is whether the work done by a paralegal as pro bono can be construed as providing legal advice. The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Services has an excellent audio-CLE program on the issue named “Ethical Aspects of Providing Legal Advice and Legal Information,” a must-hear for all paralegals.
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There are many other noted organizations and programs across the country which helps both paralegals and paralegals seeking pro bono work. Such programs include both clinics like the D.C. Bar's Advice and Referral Clinic, or awards like the Colorado Bar Association Paralegal Committee and Rocky Mountain Paralegal Association Pro Bono Paralegal of the Year Award.
Some other excellent regional resources for paralegal pro bono work include:
and other such clinics and programs which are nationally recognized.
- Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland Walk-In Community Legal Clinics
- Georgia Association of the Paralegals Inc
- Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas
- Los Angeles Paralegal Association,
When seeking pro bono work, it is better to be sure that the project or program has industry recognition, and you have the chance to work under renowned attorneys and learn their way of work. The ethics angle should always be kept in mind and it is better to steer clear of anything about which you have a doubt.