Pro Bono Experience: Jenny
If you struggle to find law work experience, you could always start off by participating in pro bono work first, which is free legal volunteering. One of my most recent pro bono experiences was a placement with law firm, Reed Smith LLP, which I attended last month.
How should I look for pro bono work?
In order to look for pro bono work, I suggest that you keep a close eye on the activities organised by their societies at your university. In my case, I enrolled myself as a member of the Pro Bono Society. I then applied for a pro bono place via the Society at Reed Smith. The pro bono place at Reed Smith was exclusive to law students because it required students to be able to write legal letters on behalf of Liberty, the association well known for advocating human rights.
I would recommend that non-law students contact their Pro Bono Society or perhaps the university Law Society to find out about any opportunities open to students who are not actively studying law.
What can I expect from pro bono work?
After being selected by the student organisers of the pro bono society, I went for a training evening at Reed Smith’s offices. There, I received one-on-one training with a solicitor at the firm, a trainer. Each student was paired up with a trainer to learn about how to draft a letter for an individual looking for a human rights lawyer. The individual that I got the chance to offer help to was attempting to make a complaint against the police.
During the evening, my trainer began by giving me a brief oral summary of the claims made by the individual, accompanied by a bullet point summary. My trainer then gave me the opportunity to explore the issues that the individual might want to address by giving me further documents about laws and regulations relating to human rights.
My task was to skim read the documents briefly and then discuss my views with the solicitor regarding the laws I wanted to choose to help make the complaint for the individual in question. It was a session which trained me to think thoroughly about why certain laws would be relevant and why the others would not.
Following our discussion, my trainer showed me two templates which I was asked to refer to when drafting the letter following the evening session. Having two templates meant that I was given two styles of writing to choose from. The only requirement in both templates was that I had to begin and end the letter with a few standard phrases that are required by Liberty concerning matters of legal liability on their part.
My trainer advised me to draft the letter with sub-headings so that I could lay out the letter more clearly. After this it came to the end of the training session. The other students and I were given some time to ask questions about Reed Smith itself, and we were encouraged to email our trainer for the evening should we have any questions about drafting the letter. I was given a week to write the letter and to return it to the trainer.
By the end of the placement when I had handed in my draft letter, the solicitor kindly emailed me back to instruct me how to better structure the letter with more precise wording. It was truly a very valuable experience, helping me to improve on my writing skills in drafting legal letters, as well as other legal documents and essays.
Words: Jenny Yan Yu Leung