How Volunteer Work Will Benefit Your Career

Thinking of volunteering?

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Today we are thrilled to have Law School Expert Lee Burgess here with a guest post on how volunteer work can actually be a benefit to your career. Lee is the co-founder (with me!) of the Law School Toolbox, Bar Exam Toolbox, and Trebuchet Legal

Thanks, Alison! I am delighted to stop by and talk about the benefits of volunteer work (beyond just being good for your community).

It doesn’t matter if you are in law school or if you are already a lawyer, you are a leader—in your law school, your legal practice, or your community. You have leadership skills, and you continue to grow those skills as you take on new leadership roles and challenges.

You are also a member of the greater community. For most of us, this will involve a calling to become involved and give back. This may be through legal nonprofit or other work.

I felt this calling after graduating from law school. Since my law school “selfishness” was over, I wanted to find a way to get more involved in my community. So I started to keep my eyes open for opportunities to volunteer. And that is when I said “yes” to working with a Bay Area nonprofit called GirlVentures, which offers outdoor education programming to teach leadership and self-esteem to adolescent girls. Over the last five years I have volunteered on committees, organized events, raised money and lead the Board of Directors for two years.

Although I believe that nonprofit work is important and a wonderful way we can give back to our communities, it is also a way that we can gain valuable professional experiences that will make us better lawyers and leaders.

How, you might ask? Even if the nonprofit doesn’t have anything to do with the law? Yes!

Here is what you can gain through getting involved in a nonprofit:

Develop leadership experience. Although it may take you years to lead a team in your law firm or other professional environment, often you can rise to leadership positions quickly through volunteer work. Working on your leadership skills now will help you make sure you are ready to lead in your professional life in the future.

Network with other professionals. It is important to network with folks both inside and outside the legal profession. Volunteering or doing nonprofit work can introduce you to folks you would never have had the chance to meet. Someday these individuals could turn into mentors, clients, or even good friends.

Learn from other leaders. The president of the board before me was a high-level executive at a large corporation. I learned a lot by watching her and having her as a mentor moving forward. In addition, I continue to work with men and women who have many different skills, and they continue to teach me things on a regular basis.

Put your legal skills to work! Often a nonprofit (the board or other leadership body) is interested in lawyers helping with legal problems. If you get permission from your firm to do pro bono work, this can give you the opportunity to manage your own client (something that doesn’t typically happen early in your law firm career). This is a valuable experience that will lay the groundwork for client management in the future.

Lean how to promote yourself. When I joined the board of directors of GirlVentures, I was just starting my own business. Being out on my own for the first time, I was struggling with how to best market myself. For me, marketing myself was very personal and challenging. (I am not the only person who struggles with this, read Alison’s frank post on this issue.) The way that I got better at marketing myself and my businesses was by learning how to market and promote something I deeply cared about, this nonprofit.

I learned many valuable “sales” lessons at board meetings (where we talked about fundraising) and refined by “elevator pitch” skills while talking about GirlVentures to others. These skills then translated over to my business where I realized I could “sell” or “market” myself with the same passion and excitement as I was marketing this nonprofit. What a great way to cultivate these valuable (and challenging skills)!

Have the opportunity to give back. Really, what more can be said about this. It is important to give back to our community and make our corner of the world a better place. 

Have I convinced you yet? When you have some downtown, do a little brainstorming about what kind of volunteer work would be meaningful for you and get out there. You never know what it could lead to. And if nothing else, it is just a good thing to do in your spare time.