Volunteering with legal aid can be a mutually beneficial experience
Ronald Langacker first provided volunteer legal services through Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance when he was an attorney in Danville. He took one or two cases at a time, which he felt was not burdensome, and received the Pro Bono Attorney of the Year award for Vermilion County in 1999.
Langacker relocated in 2001, moving to Wisconsin to become Vice-President and General Counsel for a commercial printing company. Shifting from general practice, his work was almost exclusively corporate and business transactional work for the next several years.
In 2008, Langacker returned to central Illinois to work as counsel for a local health care provider. Within a few months, downsizing left him unexpectedly unemployed and unsure how to adjust to his circumstances. Langacker ultimately decided that he would return to the private practice of law. He felt that if he was going to rebuild a private practice in the community, he would need to re-educate himself with the kinds of work he had done as a general practitioner, such as family law. He also felt that it was a good opportunity to do some pro-bono work. Langacker turned to Land of Lincoln.
Valerie McWilliams, the Managing Attorney at Land of Lincoln’s Champaign office recalls that Langacker offered to volunteer several days a week in the office. According to McWilliams, “It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. He got to familiarize himself with local practices, got some business from contacts he made while doing his pro bono work, and had some other lawyers to bounce ideas off of. Land of Lincoln got a competent, experienced volunteer attorney.”
Langacker says, “Overall, I found it to be a great experience. It was an excellent opportunity to re-educate myself with the business of filing pleadings, arguing cases, and litigating matters on behalf of my clients in open court. Since then, I have built up a successful legal practice in Champaign, and I really have Land of Lincoln to thank for it.”
For law students and attorneys with an interest in litigation, Langacker says he would strongly recommend volunteering with a legal services organization. He explains, “The benefits of learning trial skills and practicing client relations greatly outweigh the time you expend on cases.”
Though he is no longer a fixture in Land of Lincoln’s Champaign office, Langacker continues to volunteer as a pro bono attorney on a variety of cases while handling his own private practice. Langacker was able to turn a very difficult period in his life into an opportunity for himself, for a local legal aid office, and for the clients they served. “The main thing I try to do is represent my clients to the best of my ability, whether they be wealthy or not, or indigent or not. If you work hard for people, the benefits will come,” he says.
Ramona M. Sullivan of Paris is an attorney with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc. She is President of the Edgar County Bar Association and serves on the ISBA Standing Committee for Delivery of Legal Services.