Personal, professional rewards through pro bono service

Evan Rodriguez, L’19

Everyone benefits from pro bono service. The intention is to help those in need, those without the means to help themselves. But those groups and individuals are not the only ones who benefit – you do too. Pro bono work is a symbiotic experience. The more law students and lawyers who participate in pro bono service, the more people who can be helped. There is good reason why pro bono work is a staple in the legal community.

Many people need pro bono work for daily life. There are countless situations in ordinary lives that we may take for granted because we have something to fall back on – experience, family, friends, resources. We can share that frame of reference. We can expand it. When helping someone, we ensure that they become that reference for another. Pro bono service is not simply about one person in one situation. The work spreads and affects more people than we may ever know or anticipate. That is the true value in the work – making a difference beyond what is presented. We see how the work matters in those day-to-day situations, the ones where we cannot possibly know who will be affected and to what degree. But we know that we are doing what we can do to better people’s lives.

Pro bono is encouraged and rewarded at KU. The best opportunities may not be paid nor provide class credit. The experience is far more valuable than any sort of tangible gain. I spent my 2L summer and 3L fall in the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office in Kansas City. I saw people at the worst times in their lives, but I also saw the humanity in the law. I saw every day how everyone helped address exceptionally trying situations and emotions. It was invaluable for me to learn how I can best serve the community and confront life-changing issues.

My experience is not the only example of pro bono service. There are countless ways to make a difference. Legal training helps you see more sides of an issue, and thus more ways to help. We are in a position to do more for those around us. The work may seem small or trivial to us, but the person or group almost certainly does not see the issue that way. The breadth of the law means that there are pro bono opportunities in each area of law. Every one of us can do something.

If a student is unsure what to do, KU provides numerous pro bono opportunities. These range from the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program to the Expungement Clinic. Even minimal legal experience can provide insight for how to help others. You learn about diversity, culture, vulnerability, resources, methods and so much more. But you should never underestimate how much it means to someone else that you are available and willing to share your knowledge. Pro bono service allows all of us to become strong advocates and strong members of our communities. Even more importantly, it allows the community to trust lawyers and feel comfort in knowing that they are not alone.

—   Evan Rodriguez, L’19