From – Missouri Lawyers Weekly
October , 2002
Also published in The Countian
By Leigh Joy Carson
I have a confession to make: I am not very good at organized volunteer work. I don’t like meetings with agendas, I don’t like long discussions of points that I don’t find important, and I don’t like the expectation of producing contributors and attendees to events that don’t interest me.
However, I was fortunate to learn early in my career from a partner at Bryan Cave that a license to practice law is a privilege, and as with any privilege, this one comes with responsibilities and obligations. It took more years than I care to admit for me to realize that those responsibilities and obligations are privileges too.
I complained about my federal court appointed cases, and I moaned about clients that I continue to represent despite the lack of payment. I have done true pro bono and resented the client much of the time.
We are all tired of doing pro bono work, even though much of what we do is of our doing. Admit it, when is the last time you accepted a request from Legal Advocate for Abused Women to cover an adult abuse order of protection in the city, with the long wait and the endless stories of failure and sadness and pettiness and cruelty? When did you last say to the coordinator for the Volunteer Lawyers program of Legal Services, “sure, I’ll handle that case”?
I suggest that each of us can give back to our community in a meaningful way that doesn’t require us to give our legal skills in a way that causes resentment and stress. There is a way for each of us to extend a helping hand without committing even one evening a month and fretting because it conflicts with our daughter’s Brownie meeting or our son’s baseball practice or even “The Sopranos.” There is a way to make a difference without sacrificing income or time on a consequential level.
Pick something, and do it. Don’t worry that it is too small or that people will laugh at your pathetic effort. They won’t. We won’t.
I have a small law firm; two attorneys and two staff. Last spring a dear friend who volunteers at Our Little Haven once a week jokingly mentioned that he would rather eat “Green Eggs and Ham” than read it again, and a thought occurred to me, after the twinge of guilt for not doing any volunteer work, none at all. As a family law attorney, my firm handles more cases with children than without, and we do not representation of either parents or children in abuse or neglect or termination proceedings. I don’t have children. Yet I thought we could make a difference. In a gesture of confidence, we called our undertaking, “The First Annual Carson Law Firm Book Drive for Our Little Haven.” We set our goal at 100 books, and we posted flyers in our building and faxed them to colleagues. We included a simple flyer in the client bills. We created some banker’s boxes covered with wrapping paper and optimistically set them out in our office and at local churches. Our out-of-pocket costs were less than $300.
The book drive was an unqualified success: we collected more than 3,000 books for Our Little Haven, from clients and friends and colleagues and strangers. The disruption to our practice was minimal, and the feeling of satisfaction incomparable.
I have organized educational programs about family violence in the past, and the largest number of attendees was more than 400. I hope we made a difference, but I will never know. Organizing that sort of undertaking is stressful and enormously time-consuming and I have decided not to do it anymore. But that does not mean that I am resting on past laurels. This fall, in honor of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are collecting items for what we are calling a “Hope Chest” that will be donated to local battered women’s shelters. We are again asking colleagues and friends and yes, strangers, to donate things that will help battered women feel beautiful again. A local print shop donated the copying of the flyers, we spent less that $50 on a chest to hold the donations, and we feel that we are going to make a difference.
Again, the commitment required is such that it will not disrupt the business of delivering legal services to our clients. And in the end, that is why we are in business. But when two roads diverge in the legal world, sometimes taking the one less traveled can make all the difference to someone you will never meet, never know. In the end, isn’t that what charity is all about? An attorney I have known for many years and who is a ferocious advocate and formidable opponent received our flyer and had a bag of new items, cosmetics and perfume, delivered with a letter that asked for God’s blessing in our Hope Chest endeavor. We ask for God’s blessing for those affected by domestic violence, but you may feel more comfortable asking for Allah’s grace to touch children with spinal cord injuries. Whatever your cause, make an achievable goal, and you will make more of a difference that you will ever know. I promise.