Under MCLE regulations, attorneys have an opportunity to earn up to six MCLE credit hours for performing pro bono service or for mentoring in a pro bono case. Learn more about the MCLE Pro Bono Rule with this video from Jason Wax, a member, a volunteer, and a mentor in the profession. Read about Jason’s experiences volunteering.
How have you volunteered and what has that experience been like?
I mostly volunteer in my practice area: bankruptcy. Volunteering has helped me meet different clients outside of my normal practice. When someone is paying for service, it is a different type of relationship than when you are representing someone on a volunteer basis. It is refreshing to have the interaction with these clients, because they are truly grateful. It has definitely provided me another way to develop as a lawyer.
As an attorney, what are the skills that you have gained through engaging in public service?
A lot of the volunteer programs seem to offer mentorship opportunities. I started volunteering as a bankruptcy mentor through KCBA’s Volunteer Legal Service program. The person I mentored had zero experience. My mentee learned a lot about practicing bankruptcy, yet it was also beneficial for me because I was taking my practice for granted. I really had to break it down and explain it in a different way, and it helped deepen my understanding.
If my mentee wants to go into bankruptcy practice, I think they will have some tools that they hadn’t had before. Volunteer pro bono programs are a really great way to expand your practice. If I was trying to change or add a practice area, I think I would definitely look for volunteer opportunities in that area.
What has surprised you about volunteering?
To be perfectly honest, the most surprising thing is that it has impacted my non-volunteer practice. I truly expected them to be completely separate. I am still in touch with clients I represented two or three years ago; occasionally they will give me a call or give me a heads-up that they referred someone to me. That is not why I got involved in pro bono, and often it doesn’t work out for a variety of reasons — or that person becomes a pro bono client — but I just didn’t expect any sort of synergy there.
Bearing in mind confidentiality rules, would you be willing to share a client story with us?
One of my first pro bono clients was an elderly person with limited resources who had a personal injury judgment against him. It had caused this person to lose his driver’s license, under a financial responsibility statute. I was able to get rid of the judgment and get the person’s driver’s license back. This allowed the person to commute to a job and increase his income, which helped him stay out of debt and get on a more positive path.
What would you say to a peer who is interested in volunteering?
I would say, “Do it.” If you have free time and you’re not completely busy billing, you should definitely do it a lot. Even if you don’t think you have time, I think it makes absolute sense to make time. It’s good to have variety; it helps you develop as a lawyer, gain skills of empathy, and look at things in a different way. All of that helps you serve your paying clients better.
This month, look for opportunities to serve the public and the profession, learn about the rules and resources that support you to do pro bono, and hear from your peers the many rewards of volunteering.