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Just Waiting for You to Show Up
By: Sara McGeever

The subject of my charitable efforts over the past two years is currently making front–page news – child sexual abuse. Since November 6, 2011, when the Penn State scandal broke, child abuse has been the subject of many discussions, news reports and heated arguments. One of the positive aspects of the national media attention is that it has raised awareness of the prevalence of child abuse in our country. In effect, citizens are looking to become involved in child abuse prevention, reporting and awareness. As attorneys, we can help.Charitable efforts in this area may also benefit your career in unexpected ways. This article encourages young lawyers to become involved at the inception of their career and to provide guidance by example of my own experiences.

Get started:

Bite the Bullet: As young attorneys, we have the task of setting aside our book knowledge from law school and learning how to be practicing attorneys. Especially in the first years of practice, this task is incredibly time consuming and may cause you to feel that there is no time for "non-billables." Nevertheless, non-billable hours, in the form of networking and charity are important aspects of a lawyer's career. Networking helps build a client base and collegial relationships with other attorneys.Networking through philanthropy has the added benefit of giving back to the community in which we serve.

I began working at Bennett & Associates after law school. My boss, Libby Bennett, encouraged me to attend a Mission Kids Fundraising luncheon. At the time, I was feeling overwhelmed and I did not feel I had extra time to dedicate to non-billables. Libby never hesitated to pile on the challenges. She encouraged me to find my passion, but made clear, I had no choice but to bite the bullet and get involved somewhere, somehow.

Find your passion: I recommend getting involved not for the sake of getting involved; that will never last. The key is finding something you are passionate about. It is certain you will be buried in files and would much rather go home at the end of the day than to a meeting or benefit, especially in the dark days of winter. If you are passionate about your cause, motivation to make that monthly meeting will come easier than expected. If you are an environmental lawyer, you don"t necessarily need to volunteer on Earth Day. The important aspect is finding a cause that fits your passion, whatever it may be.

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Mission Kids is a non-profit child advocacy center in Montgomery County. The center serves victims of child abuse by videotaping forensic interviews of a child victim. This process avoids repeatedly traumatizing the child who would otherwise have to retell their story to police, child services, the DA, a jury and so on. The cause happened to jive with my past efforts as a student volunteering for various organizations focusing on children in need and I began attending meetings regularly.

Start out small – show up: Consider the time commitment before joining and actually attend the meetings. Then, give careful thought to your own background, skills, and ideas and offer them up. You might not have experience in fundraising or specific, detailed knowledge about the cause, but, mostly, organizations are looking for a helping hand and new ideas. In the end, I have learned this: get out of your own way. Everyone has something different to offer, and our own insecurities are more dangerous than the judgments of others.

I started going to monthly Annual Event Committee meetings for Mission Kids. Mostly sitting silently, taking it all in, and only speaking when spoken to. The Board has some very high profile members. As a new lawyer, I was insecure. Due to a wonderful group of open minded, cooperative people, we brainstormed what I could offer to the organization. I was given the task of organizing a new section of Mission Kids – Young Friends of Mission Kids, a network of young professionals who could encourage young people to be charitable donors, future leaders and fundraisers. Since then, we have had three successful fundraising events as a Young Friends Organization and we continue to grow. I now sit on the Board of Mission Kids as the chair of Young Friends.

Why it's important:

Build a client base: For a small-firm attorney, networking is an important aspect of the job. Credibility and trust are essential to gaining and retaining clients. Clients are looking for someone who is active in their own community, who is known and trusted. Clients are looking for attorneys who are sensitive and approachable.

I lost count of the number of phone calls and emails I have received in which someone says, "I heard about your work as a child advocate..." and that's not even my day job.

Personal reward: Once you dedicate yourself to a cause, you will find that the hours you spend on non-billables may be the most rewarding part of your career. Your emotional evolution from volunteering and information you acquire may assist you in your billable work. Pro bono efforts may take you to new courthouses, before different judges and into the lives of those in need making you a well rounded attorney.

Now, I am a Guardian Ad Litem on a pro bono basis through the Montgomery County Advocacy Project. Child abuse is a silent crime (more than 6 million children are victims each year). When I heard the statistics in Montgomery County alone, I resolved to dedicate a portion of my career to this cause. I was recruited to be a part of an incredibly complicated termination of parental rights case with three small children as my clients. I attended school meetings and court proceedings. I obtained invaluable experience before various judges in Juvenile and Orphans Court. I may have never stepped into those courtrooms if not for my pro bono case.

In the wake of the Penn State tragedy, I have never felt more resolved or dedicated. Child abuse affects all races and socioeconomic groups. My continued philanthropic efforts will not only make me a better lawyer, but a better person as well.For every young lawyer, there is a worthy cause in need just waiting for you to show up.

Bio: Sara McGeever is an associate attorney with Elizabeth Benn located in Wayne, Pennsylvania practicing exclusively in the area of family law. Sara graduated from Widener University School of Law in 2009 with honors and is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She can be reached at 610-254-6090 or sara@ebennettlaw.com

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