So you want to volunteer? Questions and answers about volunteering in Philadelphia

Here are some answers to commonly expressed concerns from people considering volunteering for the first time:
  • I am very interested in bankruptcy work but have never taken a bankruptcy case before, do I have to be experienced in the area in which I want to volunteer?
    No.  Trainings are offered in almost every area for which there is a need for a volunteer lawyer.  Check the Pro Bono Training Calendar to see when trainings in the area in which you are interested are offered.  If there are no trainings coming up soon, contact the agencies who refer cases dealing with your substantive areas of interest for information about available mentors and the possibilities for an attorney of your experience.
  • I want to volunteer and have some time right now, however, I know that in three months I will be much busier, is there a way to limit the time that I spend on a particular case?
    Yes and no.  Undertaking representation of a pro bono client is just like undertaking the representation of a paying client.  Many cases have unpredictable twists and turns that cause a seemingly simple case to become complex and more time consuming and likewise a seemingly complex case to settle and end earlier than anticipated.  However, many agencies that need volunteers need them to do things other than simply represent a client.

    For example, some agencies ask lawyer volunteers to donate a day at a clinic giving simple legal advice.  In addition, some agencies may be able to pair you with a lawyer, paralegal or social worker who will help to ensure that your time on the case is limited.

    Look at our Volunteer Opportunities Directory to see which agencies have the types of needs that fit with your skills and availability and/or contact them directly by e-mail through our Volunteer Opportunities list.
  • I'm a first year associate and am concerned about malpractice issues, does my firm have to cover me if I take a pro bono case?
    Many of Philadelphia's public interest agencies have malpractice insurance for lawyers who undertake representation of their clients on a pro bono basis.  To find out which agencies offer this benefit, check out the Volunteer Opportunities Directory.
Have a concern which was not addressed here?  Contact the Bar Foundation's  public interest coordinator  for a free and confidential consultation regarding volunteering.