Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pay It Forward

A few years ago a novel came out titled "Pay It Forward," followed by a movie adaptation. The protagonist was a 12-year-old whose teacher challenged him and his classmates to come up with an idea that would change the world and to implement it. The boy’s idea? "Pay it forward." He does something really good for three people. When they offer to repay the favor, he tells them to "pay it forward." He asks each of them to do really good things for three others, and when those others ask how they can repay the favor, they are to be asked to do something really good for three others, and so on. The idea is that from three acts of kindness, thousands more will be born. Now it’s your turn to "pay it forward."

As young attorneys, we may not view ourselves in a position to help others. We may think we do not have sufficient experience, or know-how or influence to be a positive influence on others. How can I help the other young associates when I’m still figuring things out? How can I handle that pro bono case when I have never argued a motion in court? But the fact is that you know more than you think, you have learned more than you can know and you can change things beyond your beliefs. It starts with finding a need and meeting it.

Perhaps another attorney in the office struggles with his writing. Perhaps your firm needs help with the staff. Perhaps a charitable organization needs the analytical skills of an attorney, even an inexperienced one. Find what those needs are, seek them out, and fill them. You have been blessed with a career in law. There are billions of people on this world who, because of their financial and social circumstances, are barely scraping by each day. They could never have made the life you have. If you had been them, you would not be here. Reflect on that, take it to heart, remember it, and when you come to terms with the fact that so little of your success has anything to do with you, pay what you have been given in this world forward.

What are some of the things you can do to share your blessings with others? Consider the following:

Volunteer. There are so many avenues available to you to volunteer. The obvious? Do pro bono. Most voluntary bar associations have an arm that pairs attorneys like you with needy clients who, because of their lack of financial wherewithal, cannot afford the legal services they need. The may lose their homes, get thrown out of their apartments, get thrown in jail, lose government benefits or even get deported without your help. You can make a real difference in these people’s lives.

In addition to pro bono, consider doing volunteer work for organizations that help out kids - Big Brother, Big Sister, The Boys Club, your local YMCA. These kids need role models and what better role model than someone who has made it through law school, passed the Florida Bar and spends every day speaking on behalf of others?

Lead. If you want to make a difference in the lives of others, become a leader in your law firm, in your local bar association, in your community. You don’t need a title to be a leader. Even if you’re not the managing partner, the president of an organization or have a title at a charitable organization, you can lead. Understand the organization’s values, its mission, its projects, and direct your efforts to advance them and bring others with you in the process.

Bring others with you. In your pursuit of making a difference, bring others with you on the journey. Don’t settle with impacting others. Help build up others so that they too can impact others. The concept of paying it forward is that each person who benefits in turn around and benefits others. As you help out in your firm, at your bar association and in your community, identify others who have the same desire, partner with them, and help them affect the lives of others for the better. You can do a lot. You and others can do so much more.

Don’t expect anything in return. Go out of your way to help others. If someone asks for help, give it. When someone seems to need help, offer it. And when no one needs or asks for it? Offer it anyway. And never, never do any of it with any expectation to get anything in return. You’re not doing these things for the payback. The payback is in the doing. Motive is everything and it is better to do less for the right reasons than more for the wrong ones.

When it comes to being a lawyer, a good one that makes a difference, you it owe to yourself to do more than produce good work product. You owe it to yourself to look beyond yourself and your needs to those around you - at work, at other attorneys and at your community. Find out what those needs are and start working on meeting them. It’s only when you start affecting the lives of others for the better that you can aspire to become a great lawyer.

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