From Newsday, I learned that the Nassau County Attorney’s office hopes help out in this economic downturn by opening its doors to bring on several volunteer lawyers who haven’t been able to find other employment. Positions range from working with the county’s Home Ownership Center to advise in mortgage default situations to defending the county in litigation and appellate matters. Already, an advertisement in the New York Law Journal has drawn 50 applicants, 80 percent of whom are currently unemployed.
I realize that on the surface, the prospect of free labor sounds eminently attractive. Indeed, for a few weeks now, I’ve been considering hiring volunteer lawyers to help out with my trade association but I’ve been too busy to organize the kind of structured program that would make their time worth my while. As for my own practice, again, I’d love to bring a volunteer on board, but for the bulk of my present work, the learning curve is just to steep to make this kind of arrangement feasible. I’d love to take on a few pro bono matters and supervise a volunteer, but finding the work also takes time.
In addition, I’m just not a fan of free labor. I’ve had one or two free volunteers at my practice over the past 15 years, but mostly, I’ve paid even though when I started out, it usually meant a $10/hr salary, with the intern or clerk receiving payment before I did. In at least one case, I found the free employee unreliable and not really very motivated, but because I wasn’t paying her, I didn’t feel that I could crack down on her as much as I would have if she’d been paid. And assuming that a diligent volunteer were working for me, I’d feel as if I were taking advantage even if I were teaching him or her the tricks of the trade.
I know that Seth Godin has a free internship program but that’s a little different. After all, I’m sure that most of us would make time to work free for a Supreme Court justice for a couple of months if given the chance. But I’m not so sure that the training and contacts that I – or most of my colleagues – could provide are a fair trade for three or six months of work that we might ultimately bill to paying clients (which is another issue – is it fair to hire a volunteer and collect cash for their work?)
So let me know what you think. If you’re unemployed or looking for a career transition, would you volunteer to work for a lawyer or non-profit and what would make it worth your while. And if you’re a solo, have you hired volunteer lawyers (students getting school credit don’t count) and how did it work out? Or would you use a volunteer at all and why or why not?