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Pro bono and hanging out: the social side of legal volunteer work

Now that I'm finally done with exams, I'm ready to take on a topic that I've been somewhat strategically waiting to introduce. I wanted to be all rested up and appropriately cheery before I brought this one up, because I think it's probably the most important post so far. 

Let me first remind you: the mission here, and the purpose of my monthly column, is to give you, a slightly shy/bookish law student, ideas on how to get yourself out of your carrel and integrated into your law school community. Remember, your years in law school are an extremely important time to start "networking" with the people who are very soon going to be your professional colleagues. I say "networking" because I don't mean you should be going around giving your classmates your elevator speech and handing out business cards. I'm talking about making friends with them, building their confidence in you, and generally being the sort of person they'll want to help out someday when something spiffy comes across their desks.  

So, *drumroll,* this month's suggestion: pro bono work. 

Many of the praises of pro bono work have already been sung, and pro bono for some has become a gateway to impressive accomplishments. This is all true, but for our purposes, pro bono also plays another important role: it helps us build relationships with our classmates.

Before you think back to the time you spent five hours on LexisNexis researching some obscure point of state family law, conclude that I'm wrong, and quit reading, I should point out that this benefit obviously isn't part of every single pro bono project ever. A lot of them do involve solo research and electronic paper-pushing. But then there are projects like the one I did during my 1L year: the Wills Trip. UNC Law's fantastic bro bono board trained a fairly large group of law students (about 25) to write wills and then sent us out to impoverished parts of North Carolina where intestate succession has caused big property law problems. The trip lasted about four days: we travelled from town to town together in vans, worked with partners, ate together, and shared hotel rooms. I stayed up late talking and sharing stories with girls who, two days earlier, I hadn't known from Eve—and this was effortless, because we automatically had experiences to talk about and connect over. Even though I went on the trip more than a year ago, I still feel like I have a special bond with the people who were there with me. 

Whether or not your school has something like this (if it doesn't, you should think about helping to organize one!), you can still find pro bono projects that help you connect with your classmates. Look for ones that involve group work, and sign up regardless of whether you know the other people whose names are on that list. This isn't just another group project like the ones you had to do for class in undergrad. These students are here voluntarily, and the fact that they've just been able to help someone has left them feeling unusually warm and gracious. These warm fuzzies are something to be taken advantage of. 

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