When I was interviewed for the bar in Maryland, the attorney interviewing me asked me why I wanted to be a lawyer. I mumbled something but I didn't have a good answer because I worry law is a zero-sum game, and in that circumstance lawyers take, but they don't add. Every time I do great work for my client, I'm taking away from yours. (Note this is litigation. Transactional work still adds value.) I've been working on an answer to that over the past decade and I hope it's been improving. One answer: lawyers are like Charon, guiding litigants across the Styx/judicial system, and although that's a little dark I think there is some truth to it.
I have been privileged to do some pro bono work over the last year and that has helped give me a better answer. Lawyers solve problems - sometimes the hard way; more often the easy way - but the goal of a lawyer is to see what the outcomes could be to help guide clients to solutions. If that's the case, I think it is important that lawyers vigorously represent their clients, but just as important that they have an eye toward justice.
What's different about pro bono work is these clients are not people with experience in litigation or deep knowledge of the law. It's a little bit of a heady responsibility, but it provides a novel perspective on what lawyers can do, and how lawyers are (or should be) guided toward results, yes, but also toward good results.