The cure for the summertime blues

Plenty of pro bono opportunities abound for attorneys

Pro Bono

Meg Benson

Meg Benson has worked for Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, the oldest pro bono organization in the country, for more than 30 years. As executive director, she coordinates the agency’s bench, bar and law firm relations and directs its program management and funding. A family law litigator, she still handles minor guardianship and custody cases.

Mike Royko’s alter ego, Slats Grobnik, said it best: “If work is so great, why do they have to pay you to do it?”

Face it, a job is a job is a job.

Why did you become a lawyer? Was it because you could argue for a living? Because you wanted to make money but business school was boring? Because you failed organic chemistry in college, so medical school was out of the question?

Regardless, at some point, you made the decision to go to law school and become an attorney.

So how’s that working out for you now? Remember, no matter how fabulous the profession, or the job, there will always be the tedium of day-to-day work.

No matter what else, most people have to deal with the stress of earning that daily bread.

So, whether you dreamed of becoming Perry Mason or Jack McCoy or, heaven forbid, Denny Crane, it’s better if you like being an attorney.

If you really hate everything about being a lawyer, stop doing it right now.

The world, or at least Chicago, does not need more unhappy attorneys who dislike the law, clients, their practices and their jobs.

A law license can be a useful tool in many other jobs. Find one of those.

If you have no idea what else you can do, consult a career counselor — some specialize in retooling attorneys.

However, if you don’t hate being a lawyer, but don’t really like it much either, what can you do then?

You know what I’m going to suggest, don’t you?

Pro bono, of course.

While pro bono cannot solve all of your problems, it can help you overcome general professional malaise by enlivening and expanding your professional experience.

Some people might question the wisdom of pitching pro bono during the summer.

For some people, summer means lazy. Lazy days at the beach or in a park. Lazy evenings in a sidewalk cafe. Skipping out of work early to spread out on a hammock in a backyard.

More power to those people. Some of us, however, don’t do lazy too well. Lazy can be boring. Too much sitting around is unhealthy and too much sun causes wrinkles and skin damage.

An alternative to relaxing by doing nothing is to relax by doing something different — even challenging.

Tackling a new activity can provide a rush of accomplishment. You gain new skills and hone existing ones. You meet new people or have fun with people you already know.

So, what can you do this summer that is different, lets you meet new people and accomplish something? Hmmmmm, let me think. Oh yeah … summertime pro bono.

Pro bono is not the same as community service. Sometimes, groups of attorneys — law firms, corporate law departments, bar associations — volunteer for service projects like cleaning and painting inner-city schools, working at a soup kitchen or in a community garden.

But, instead of having fun performing community service, have fun performing community pro bono.

While physical labor might feel good, legal work benefits you professionally, satisfies an ethical mandate and gives you a sense of accomplishment that makes your heart sing.

Consider volunteering one night a week at CARPLS, Chicago’s legal aid hotline.

CARPLS keeps its hotline open two nights a week for clients who can’t access it during the day. You can bring a group of friends or go solo and meet other attorneys.

CARPLS gives you training and pizza. You advise people who need it. Don’t worry that you don’t know anything about their legal problems; you will thanks to CARPLS’ training and support. If you are interested, contact CARPLS at volunteers@carpls.org or (312) 421-4427.

The Center for Disability & Elder Law hosts workshops that allow groups of attorneys to spend one afternoon at a Cook County senior center preparing Illinois living will declarations.

These events are a one-shot deal where you meet a client, explain and draft necessary documents which are signed, witnessed and notarized on the spot. For more information, contact CDEL at info@cdelaw.org or (312) 376-1880.

If these selections don’t sizzle for you, dive into the pool of pro bono opportunities, sorted by type, practice area, skills acquired and population, offered at illinoisprobono.org.

This website also includes a range of training and information that will inspire you out of the hammock and into the wonderful world of pro bono.

Yes, work is work, but being an attorney should be more than just a job.

Don’t let the drudgery of your day-to-day responsibilities make you hate your profession.

Relax, have fun and accomplish something good with pro bono.

You won’t feel that your summer, a rare and precious commodity in Chicago, has been wasted.