Not Just Good, Good For You
February 2010 President's Column By Patrick E. Kelly
"It's not just good, it's good for you." Sounds like something your mother might have said about spinach. But I am talking about volunteering. Volunteering has long been a common ethic in the United States, where Americans have historically been among the most generous people in the world. Our Mecklenburg County Bar has a long and distinguished history of volunteerism.
A "volunteer," as defined under federal statutes, is one who "performs hours of service for.... civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered." Implied in the definition of "volunteer" is that the gift of an individual's time is freely given, without pressure or coercion.
Recently, the North Carolina State Bar adopted a new Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 6.1 states that "[e]very lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year." Though reasonable minds may disagree, Rule 6.1 could be construed as creating a mandatory obligation to "volunteer" at least 50 hours of pro bono legal service per year.
Though individually we may disagree whether Rule 6.1 is mandatory or merely advisory, almost all of us can agree that true volunteering of any sort - whether providing pro bono legal services, serving on a non-profit board, working at a soup kitchen, or serving on an MCB Committee - is a good thing for the individuals and organizations served, and for the greater community.
But did you know that in addition to the many tangible and intangible benefits of volunteering, there is a growing body of research which shows that volunteering provides individual health benefits as well? Multiple studies over the past two decades have shown that those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression than those who do not volunteer. "Volunteering makes the heart grow stronger," says David Issener, CEO of the Corporation for National Community Service. Those who devote a considerable amount of time (at least 100 hours per year) are the most likely to exhibit these positive health benefits. Apparently, when it comes to volunteering, unlike exercising or eating spinach, it's hard to overdo it.
So, irrespective of our own individual interpretation of the new Rule 6.1, it may do your body good to consider taking advantage of the many volunteer opportunities within our Bar and within our community. The MCB is looking at new and better ways to enhance its capability to make voluntary opportunities available to members. One proposal under consideration is to consolidate the efforts of the Bar and the Bar Foundation in a collaborative effort to funnel all volunteer and support opportunities through a single entry point. Not only should this make it easier for lawyers to identify opportunities to meet Rule 6.1 pro bono "requirements," it will also help them to more seamlessly and effortlessly connect with other volunteer opportunities of interest to them.