You Can See It in the Faces

11/04/2011 03:16 pm ET | Updated Jan 04, 2012

The practice of law is an absolute honor and a privilege. When anyone is fortunate enough to be able to earn their livelihood by helping others to improve their lives and relieve their stresses, care should be taken to launch gratitude as a prime emotion. With the opportunity to earn a decent living, "giving back" has to become part and parcel of the entire spectrum. Lawyers as a whole support this perspective and actively engage it is exercise.

In a training session just recently in Philadelphia, a flock of attorneys were schooled in the importance of adhering to the same ethical standards in representing those who could not afford private attorneys as would be expected in handling the paying client. The course was held in the Exelon Building at 2301 Market which is home to PECO Energy. The lawyers there are actively engaged in community-minded and populace-friendly activities for which legal fees are not showered upon them and which are classified as "pro bono," which means for the public good, and therefore, free. In Philly as in many legal centers, this is not an unusual event.

Lawyers have enough to contend with in combating the unwarranted mystique of greed and ruthlessness fueled by the media and by the cynicism of the beleaguered public. It might come as a shock that thousands of hours are allocated or voluntarily expended by members of the legal profession purely to do good for those who normally would not be able to afford their services. Law firms of all sizes as well as sole practitioners enthusiastically participate in leveling the playing field for the indigent, the homeless, the disadvantaged, the endangered, the abused, and the destitute.

The session, sponsored by VIP, or Volunteers for Indigent Persons, is one of many that are held on a regular basis to train the hosts of volunteer lawyers to handle the throngs who go to court unrepresented because of financial incapacity. Many judges feel the frustration of wanting to render fair decisions and knowing that many of the people appearing before them would be better prepared with the presence of a skilled practitioner. Many judges gave their time to attend the session and stress the need for this supplementation of available legal services.

Sometimes, videos of actual clients, rescued from despair and disaster by a volunteer attorney, and their experiences and relief would warm the most detached of hearts. Their faces show the relief and lifting of once formidable burdens. This writer's own experience in hearing the declarations of solace from the recipients of this assistance, the easing of their fear and acute stress, their restoration of faith, and their recognition as human beings with rights and substance, is touching to the spirit and validates the necessity of this activity.

And the faces of the lawyers themselves, some new, some young and starry-eyed, others more seasoned and experienced in dealing with human suffering, all expressing excitement and enthusiasm, absolute rapture in knowing they made a difference.

The benefits to lawyers and clients themselves are not always obvious. Those attorneys who participate frequently learn basic skills that can enhance their own scope of practice, because of the tremendous support of the organizational supervisors who are well versed in the fields that encompass the problems the clients face. Many attorneys can add these areas to their own individual practices or gain insights and familiarities that they might not have learned otherwise. There are opportunities to obtain needed continuing legal education credits which all lawyers must earn to remain eligible to practice. And it can never hurt to know as many fellow attorneys as possible for camaraderie and expansion of practice through referral sources.

The most important thing is to recognize that your life, personally and professionally, feels genuinely more worthwhile. Some lawyers say they sometimes enjoy the matters they DON'T get paid for more than some for which they do. It is even a joy to know of opportunities for satisfaction and erasing feelings of futility, actually appearing from time to time.

One caveat! Many attorneys have declared that participation in pro bono work can become addictive!