Hooked on a Feeling

Everyone knows that it feels good to do good, but that bit of common sense doesn’t always inspire good deeds by itself. To nurture a genuine passion for generosity, sometimes it takes a real reminder of how good it feels to make a difference in someone’s life.

Take it from Steven Fus, assistant general counsel for United Airlines Inc. and chairman of the airline’s Pro Bono/Community Service Program committee:

“What we find is that after someone participates once or twice the person realizes the personal rewards and the excitement becomes contagious, leading to others being recruited,” Fus said in an interview with The National Law Journal, which recognized United’s corporate counsel as one of Chicago’s In-House Legal Departments of the Year.

United’s pro bono program was launched in 2012, and by its second year, voluntary employee participation increased by 100 percent. That “contagious” excitement continues to build as more and more United employees get bitten by the generosity bug.

“After mentoring Legal Prep Charter Academy students or after a legal clinic, you see the enthusiasm and effect it has on the attorneys and staff, the realization of the rewards of using their legal skills to change others’ lives for the better,” Fus told the Public Interest Law Initiative. “That personalization is not something you get every day in a corporate practice. When you do it yourself, you already know, but to see others get that realization and share that enthusiasm back at the office is when we know the process is working.”

There are plenty of additional reasons why that process is working so well at United. The program partners with legal aid organizations to provide specialized training and resources. Instead of limiting volunteer opportunities to specific projects, attorneys and staff are encouraged to let their passions guide them to projects that have personal significance. Employees are even welcome to do pro bono work during their normal workday.

Fus’ ultimate goal is for 100 percent of his department to participate in the program, but he says it’s important to keep the program voluntary. If participation was mandatory or a factor in performance evaluations, “the individuals might do it for the wrong reasons and won’t have the passion that drives the same rewards and sustainability,” Fus said.

“It wouldn’t be a disservice, but it wouldn’t be as valuable as when someone does it because they want to make a difference in their community, and it’s that kind of passion that provides the best service to the clients.”

If you’ve been thinking about volunteering but keep finding reasons to put it off, you may just be overdue for a reminder of how good it feels to give. Now is the time to jump in with both feet and rediscover that feeling. If your department hasn’t established a program like the one at United, you can always find opportunities through your local community and legal aid groups. And if you catch that contagious excitement, be sure to spread it around back at the office.