Some Clarifications On Community Services.
The Good Lawyers
When you think of a lawyer, sometimes we get an image of high powered men in flashy suits charging $300 an hour to talk the legal talk that nobody understands but other lawyers. And when we get those media images of lawyers in our heads, the idea of a lawyer who wants to use his or her specialized talent with the law and that extensive education they all have to have to practice law for community service work seems almost ridiculous.
It’s a good idea in all aspects of life not to let television or movie images of anyone affect reality very much. The truth is there are thousands of lawyers who went into law for other reasons than to make money and run for governor. In every city and town in the country, there are lawyers who work for very little to defend people who need help with the legal system try to get a fair shake in a system that seems to reward the wealthy and the influential.
Most of us know at least a few lawyers. To be sure, there seems to be a lot of them. But if you think about your friends who are lawyers, many have them have a strong sense of community service and a desire to use the privilege and education that has been given to them to benefit society. It is a tradition that goes back for centuries in the legal profession. A lawyer, by definition, is one who stands between the people and the government to try to help those who have been falsely accused or need an advocate to be treated fairly.
That attitude of responsibility to the community is reflected in the values of the Bar Association of America. The Bar Association holds its members to a high standard of public responsibility and accountability. And part of that sense of responsibility is using their talents and abilities as part of their community service. So part of a lawyer’s commitment includes dedicated a certain amount of hours to the community to be offered as free legal assistance to those who cannot afford a lawyer otherwise.
Now to be fair, this is required by the American Bar Association of all lawyers on a state by state basis. An average of 50 hours a year is required for a lawyer to continue to be a member of the Bar in good standing. This is called “Pro Bono Publico” work (usually shorted to Pro Bono), which is Latin for “in the public good.” But rather than see that as something negative, this reflects the values of the Bar Association, and it sends a message to anyone who wants to hang out their shingle as a lawyer that being in service to the community is important and encouraged from the highest levels of the legal profession.
The attitudes of public responsibility don’t just end at the door of the Bar Association building. Many lawyers give far more than their minimum requirements in free legal service to the community. In every city and town in this country, you can find lawyers working side by side with doctors, dentists, construction people, and professionals of every description to try and help out people who don’t have a lot to give back but just need that helping hand.
So let’s lay aside our prejudices about lawyers that we pick up from too many movies and television shows that only show the bad ones when we do that, we will realize that lawyers are good neighbors, good family men, and woman and really do care about giving back to the community just like you and I do. Those are truly good lawyers.
Can Mandatory Community Service Work?
Lots of organizations coordinate youth community service work. And you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would oppose the idea of kids pitching in and helping out make the community a better place for everybody to live. It’s good for the community because we are using that boundless energy and physical stamina of youth for a good cause. It’s good for the causes helped because there is no end of work to be done. And it’s good for the kids because it helps them think about other people, it gives them a strong sense of self-esteem, and it helps them learn new skills and meet others in the community they might never meet otherwise.
But when those in leadership at the local, state or national level propose some form of uniform mandatory community service for youth, that seems to change the nature of the program so dramatically that the discussion turns sour pretty fast.
It might be that the term “mandatory community service” has a negative connotation because so often, that is part of the sentencing of someone who has run afoul of the law and is given so many hundred hours of community service to pay back their debt to society. So if we are going to implement any form of mandatory community service for teenagers or kids on our society, we need to think it through and take advantage or programs that have successfully mandated community service for kids and have had success.
There are ample examples of youth organizations that have worked community service into their programs so successfully that the youth perform the service with enthusiasm and actually have a lot of fun with it. And that is the spirit you want everyone to have on a community service project, adult and youth alike. Often times voluntary school programs such as band, academic clubs, other competitive societies such as chess or debate clubs will include a form of community service as part of the requirements for membership. The service can be integrated with the activity, such as having the chess club members spend a day a month at the shelter teaching chess to homeless kids. The youth associate their ambitions to become great at the skill they are seeking with sharing that skill with others.
Churches and youth organizations not affiliated with schools also have great success with community service. When you see a church youth group outside the walls of the church, you can bet they are probably busy painting someone’s porch, feeding the less fortunate, or doing something of value for the community. The church can put a positive slant on it that fits with the mission of the organization by calling it a “mission to our own town,” but the outcome is the same.
One of the most outstanding examples of an organization that turns community service into a value that is eagerly sought by their youth is the Boy Scouts of America. In Boy Scouts, the young men must complete a certain number of hours of organized “service hours” to make the next rank in scouting. The program places a high value on advancing in rank, which is rewarded with pomp and circumstance during the advancement ceremony and badges for their uniforms, which young men pursue with zeal.
The key is to tie the community service to something the youth want to do. If the mandatory community service is integrated with advancement, achievement, and rewards, the short term “pay off” is all a kid needs to roll their sleeves up and get in there and work. And if they have fun side by side with adults they admire, you have a formula for a program of mandatory community service for youth that is sure to be a success.