By Lee Burgess • January 03, 2013•Writers in Residence
You are a leader—in your legal practice, your law school, your community. You have leadership skills, and you continue to grow those skills as you take on new leadership roles and challenges.
You are also a member of the community. For most of us, this will involve a calling to become involved and give back. This may be through legal nonprofit or other work.
I felt this calling after graduating from law school. Since my law school “selfishness” was over, I wanted to find a way to get more involved in my community. So I started to keep my eyes open for opportunities to volunteer. And that is when I said “yes” to an invitation from my mentor at my law firm to attend a benefit for a Bay Area nonprofit called GirlVentures. Attending the breakfast event meant that I was a few hours late to the office but, boy, was it worth it. There I was introduced to an organization that really spoke to me and excited me—one that uses outdoor education to teach leadership and self-esteem to adolescent girls. At this breakfast the impressive graduates of GirlVentures programs spoke about their experiences and their personal growth. A roomful of almost 400 professionals was brought to tears by the girls’ touching stories. I was sold. I had to get involved. With one e-mail to the friend who had invited me to the breakfast (she was on the board of directors), I was on a committee to help plan the organization’s spring benefit event.
That was three and a half years ago. I volunteered with GirlVentures for about a year before being invited to apply to the board of directors in early 2010. Once I joined the board it was only a matter of time before I was on the executive committee and I am now in my second year as board president. GirlVentures has not only given me the opportunity to give back to my community, it has given me the opportunity to grow as a leader myself. It has been an incredible, worthwhile experience for me, both personally and professionally.
So you might be wondering, why do I think my story is a valuable one for law students and practicing attorneys?
Nonprofit work is a wonderful way that we can give back as well as gain valuable professional experiences that will make us better lawyers and leaders.
Even if the nonprofit doesn’t have anything to do with the law? Yes!
Here is what you can gain through getting involved in a nonprofit:
- Develop leadership experience. Although it may take you years to lead a team in your law firm or other professional environment, often you can rise to leadership positions quickly through volunteer work. Working on your leadership skills now will help you make sure you are ready to lead in your professional life in the future.
- Network with other professionals. It is important to network with folks both inside and outside the legal profession. Volunteering or doing nonprofit work can introduce you to folks you would never have had the chance to meet. Someday these individuals could turn into mentors, clients, or even good friends.
- Learn from other leaders. The president of the board before me was a high-level executive at a large corporation. I learned a lot by watching her and having her as a mentor moving forward. In addition, I continue to work with men and women who have many different skills and much expertise, and they continue to teach me things on a regular basis.
- Put your legal skills to work! Often a nonprofit (the board or other leadership body) is interested in lawyers helping with legal problems. If you get permission from your firm to do pro bono work, this can give you the opportunity to manage your own client (something that doesn’t typically happen early in your law firm career). This is a valuable experience that will lay the groundwork for client management in the future.
- Have the opportunity to give back. Really, what more can be said about this. It is important to give back to our community and make our corner of the world a better place.
In this column I will explore the different ways nonprofit work or volunteering can support you in your personal and professional development. I will also share stories of other legal professionals who have felt that nonprofit work has been key to helping them be the attorneys they are today.