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Pay-It-Forward-Blog-Post, Canva, 9.1.23

Pay It Forward

“Pay it forward” is a phrase that refers to helping someone now with no expectation of a payment in return. Instead, there is an understanding that they will help someone in the future.

You may have been the recipient of a “pay it forward” gift when someone in front of you bought your coffee one morning. You can pay it forward on another day by buying coffee for someone behind you in line. A friend explained that early in her career, a colleague stayed late to help her finish pulling together presentation materials before an early morning flight. The colleague explained that someone had done the same for her years before; she was simply paying it forward now.

As lawyers, we have an ethical obligation to help. One way lawyers help is by providing legal services to those in need. This is called “pro bono” legal services, a Latin phrase that means “for the public good”. In Illinois, when attorneys renew their license, they are asked how many pro bono hours they provided during the previous 12 months. It is a part of how we here at Trinity Family Law serve the community we work in – and live into our mission.

Several years ago, I decided to use the concept of “paying it forward” when working with pro bono clients. My hope, as I explain to clients, is that they appreciate the value they receive and that in the future, when they opportunity arises, they can show generosity to someone else.

In one such case, a former pro bono client reached out to me several years after her divorce to explain how she paid it forward. Here is what she had to say:

“After finalizing the divorce, my life opened up. A year after divorcing, I moved with my son and new partner. I quickly connected with the gardening field and started volunteering at [a local non-profit]… I had the privilege to work with all kinds of populations including differently abled adults who came… for therapeutic gardening classes. It was an amazing experience and, after volunteering for a year, I ended up being hired there part time.

My time as a volunteer has enriched my life and led to many friendships and discovering a community of like-minded gardeners… This was my way to pay it forward. I gave many hours of time, love, and labor… over the course of 6 months volunteering. Going there after my regular full-time job and helping on the weekends.

Thank you for what you did for me.”

I love when past clients reach out to update me on their life. In this case, hearing how “paying it forward” brought gifts of friendship and purpose confirmed that providing pro bono services can lead to so many other positive outcomes.

How have you been helped by someone’s generosity when you were in need? How have you paid it forward?

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