Right time, right place

Millennial traits are the perfect blend for volunteer legal work

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.

April 2015

Millennials: For years, baby boomer bosses have been getting advice on how to manage you. They’ve read that you demand independence but constantly need praise and reassurance. They know that you believe in a work-life balance instead of office face-time and that you won’t power dress without a compelling reason. Boomer bosses, who prize individual effort, struggle to understand your collaborative multi-tasking and love of technology.

Well, millennials, guess what? First of all, not only are you the future, you are also the present. There are more of you in the workforce than boomers and Gen Xers combined. According to one study, within 10 years, four out of five workers will be millennials.

Right now, however, most millennials work for either baby boomers or Gen Xers. This means that as long as you are climbing a professional ladder, those in authority — judges, managing partners, corporate CEOs and most clients — still expect you to fit into their version of the working world.

Don’t despair. The pro bono world welcomes you with open arms. In fact, consider pro bono as the “Practice of Law — Millennial Style.”

Take a look at traits identified as millennial and see how well they mesh with pro bono work. Although these generational characteristics may oversimplify, they contain a certain amount of truth and prove that pro bono is the perfect work for most millennials.

Millennials are avid volunteers. More of you performed volunteer work in 2013 than any other generation. This means that pro bono work is right up your collective alleys. Chicago has a slew of worthy programs and projects just waiting for attorneys from your very special generation.

Millennials prefer casual dress, a flexible work schedule and meaningful work.

Most millennials believe that a work/life balance is key. And really, is that such a bad thing? Later in life, workaholic boomers often regret lost family time. In addition, millennials aren’t all about the money. They want to believe in what they do. They value creativity and seeing that their hard work means something.

Pro bono gives you meaningful, interesting work.

You don’t have to dress up for most pro bono work, as long as you’re not in court. You don’t even have to wear the typical law firm casual dress uniform. You can be your own sartorial self in skinny pants, a knit cap or whatever is trendy these days. You can even show off those tattoos and piercings.

In addition, pro bono is not a 9-to-5 gig. That’s for your paying work. You do pro bono when you can and when you want. In fact, many pro bono clients need off-hour appointments. Hotlines are open evenings, and most legal service programs offer late afternoon trainings. Although you’ll need to attend court- and litigation-related duties during normal business hours, you can, otherwise, often fit pro bono into the schedule you prefer.

Millennials want a collaborative work environment and embrace technology. The current view is that millennials travel and work in packs. They don’t want to work alone any more than they play alone.

Relax.

Pro bono doesn’t care if you want to work with friends. Join as a group — the more people helping, the more people helped.

And even though older folks wonder why millennials sit around with their friends staring at their phones without talking, pro bono doesn’t care because we know how much you get done on those phones. It is clear that, whether alone or in a group, at home or at work, millennials are always connected to technology. Why wouldn’t you be? You’ve grown up being educated, entertained and soothed with digital tools. Technology is all you know.

Pro bono embraces technology. It is cost- effective and efficient. From Illinois Legal Aid Online’s app that connects you to a host of opportunities, to online video trainings and Web-based case management, volunteers can find, learn and do pro bono anytime and from anywhere.

Millennials require constant attention and approval.

Good, because quality pro bono programs keep a close eye on volunteers. Program staff monitor cases and are available to help volunteers as needed. They also encourage and praise their volunteers’ efforts. That’s their job.

Millennials — pro bono work is tailor-made for you. It is easy to find your perfect program at illinoisprobono.org or in The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Pro Bono Opportunities Guide at chicagobarfoundation.org.

The guide includes lists of Chicago programs that offer evening or weekend volunteer opportunities and group pro bono opportunities. Both sources show programs by opportunity type, subject area, location, skills acquired and other variables.

Finally, for all you millennials who read to the end of this column, congratulations. We are so proud of you. Come by the office to pick up your column-reading trophy any day this week.