Bar News - November 16, 2016
Board Perspective: When Doing Pro Bono Work, Think Like a Squirrel
By: Catherine E. Shanelaris
I have a friend who is a prolific blogger. She blogs about everything from the profound to the mundane. One day this past summer, I was reading her blog post about weeding her garden. This would be the mundane part of the story. My friend Robyn has an expansive garden in her back yard full of beautiful flowers and all kinds of vegetables.
She started weeding in a section of the garden and she came across a small clump of weeds that she hadnít seen before. She had a short debate with herself about whether to pull the weeds out or let them grow to see what developed. Ultimately, she decided to pull them. She wrapped her gloved hand around the weeds and was surprised that there was some resistance. She tugged harder and when she pulled the weeds out, she was astonished at what she saw. Dangling from the roots of the weeds were the cracked open remnants of a cluster of acorns. Only then did she realize that she had uprooted the tiny beginnings of a mighty little oak tree. Robyn then thought about how those acorns got in her garden. Some industrious little squirrel, just doing what squirrels do every day, buried them for another time, for another meal.
In reading her blog, I thought about my pro bono clients and in particular my first pro bono client. My client was a young woman with small children, no job, receiving welfare benefits and in a tough spot in life. Her husband left her and she needed a divorce. When she and I eventually finalized the divorce, she told me that one day she was going to call me to tell me her life was better. Not better because she wanted it for herself, but because she wanted it for her children. I donít remember how much time had passed when she in fact did call me. She told me she was enrolled in school, that she had a part-time job and that her kids were doing so much better.
My law partner Jane Schirch and I have always had a philosophy since the inception of our firm that we take on one pro bono client at a time and when we finish up with that client, we take on another, which makes it easy for us to integrate our pro bono work into our everyday work. Like the squirrel in the garden, it is not an effort to do one pro bono case or to take on one volunteer project at a time. Itís part of our work as attorneys. It is not too much to ask for us to do something that is bigger than ourselves, just doing our everyday work.
And once in while we may even find out that we have helped in a small way to better someoneís life, like the squirrel nurturing the beginnings of a tiny mighty oak tree, inadvertently without even realizing it, with only a small amount of effort. It is my challenge to all of us today, to take on one pro bono case at a time or one volunteer project at time. It is not too much to ask of us. To use our knowledge of the power of the law that we have for good. I heard a great saying the other day - the more likely you are to live to help others, the more likely you are to live.
Editorís Note: President-elect Scott Harris has invited other members of the NHBA Board of Governors to participate in the Perspectives column this year.