Nonprofit Volunteering: Gaining Valuable Leadership and Management Experience

Lawyers, in my opinion, need to be leaders and managers. At various points in your career you may be leading or managing other lawyers, staff, or a large trial team. These are just a few examples, but if you spoke to many attorneys, they would tell you that they have been in situation after situation where they were called on to lead or manage.

Are we all born to be leaders?

There are many different styles of leadership and at times it might seem that some folks are better leaders and managers than others. But you know what I have definitely learned myself and heard from others? That leadership skills can be learned and gained through leadership experiences. 

Take this great story told to me by a friend over lunch recently. We were talking about leading teams and I told her that I thought serving on a nonprofit board was a great way to hone your leadership skills even though it didn’t have anything to do with practicing law. She agreed. She told me about her role at her law firm where she managed a team of associates overseeing numerous cases. I asked where she learned the leadership skills she used managing that project and she laughed, “By running my sorority in college!” This is just one more example of how leadership skills gained in other arenas can be applied to your legal career.

Do you want to learn and practice leadership and management skills solely on the job? 

I would argue, no. By the time you are called upon in your legal career to step into a leadership role, you want to have some skills and experience in your back pocket. There are a few ways that you can gain those skills.  I have heard successful leaders talk about reading biographies about leaders or books on leadership. I know that some folks prefer to attend workshops or lectures on the topic. But I don’t think there is anything more effective than actually being in a leadership role to learn leadership skills.

It is for this reason that I feel that my nonprofit volunteering has been a huge benefit for me in my professional life. 

When I joined the GirlVentures Board of Directors in 2010, I took on a leadership role as the co-chair of our fundraising event committee. After that experience I was nominated to an officer position and in 2012 became the president of the board. In these different roles I have had the opportunity to lead and manage teams, be part of a hiring search committee, complete performance reviews, and learn about human resources processes. I have led teams of my peers, which, in my opinion, can be some of the more challenging leadership situations. Each time I have been presented with a leadership or management role, I have learned something valuable. I have made mistakes, tried new management techniques, learned what worked and what didn’t, and I can now apply all of those lessons to my professional life without making the same mistakes twice (hopefully).  Every leadership role is a catalyst for a learning experience. Volunteering can present you with leadership positions with more significant roles and responsibilities than you likely will be offered in your career any time soon (especially if you are a young attorney).

What about while you are working on your job hunt?

Often these leadership experiences from your nonprofit work can give you something to add to your resume or make you a more attractive candidate to a future employer. With additional leadership roles your resume will stand out from the person next to you. And that is typically a good thing as far as the job hunt is concerned.

You can learn from other accomplished leaders.

There is another important part to this. When the management challenges came up while working with the nonprofit, I was able to seek advice from other board members, many of them incredibly accomplished leaders in their own organizations. Basically, I was volunteering for an organization passionate about leadership. And I was in my own form of leadership training, with some of the most accomplished leaders I know. I believe that mentors are critical to success and working with other accomplished leaders and managers is one key way to learn, grow, and get valuable feedback.

I already discussed how nonprofit work helped me learn the art of self-promotion. Now I have shared how I think nonprofit work can help you gain valuable leadership and management skills. Have I convinced you to get out there and get involved in your community yet? 

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