Pro Bono Work Experience: A Law Student’s Whistle-Stop Guide
Pro Bono Work Experience is for Everyone
In an ideal world, every law student would do pro bono work. Pro bono work broadly involves volunteering some of your time to help people who cannot afford legal assistance but need it. In an age of legal aid cuts and austerity such work is crucial to ensure access to justice and the rule of law , even just a day or two a month can make a huge difference.
Even better, it is fantastically beneficial to you! All firms and chambers value practical legal experience away from the library. Not only does it demonstrate your enthusiasm for the law and improve your real-world legal abilities, but it can also help combat that jaded feeling of helplessness we all feel when faced with yet another mountain of cases to learn. Using your legal skills in the real world, to help those who really need it, is both immensely fulfilling and can help you figure out what area of law you want to practice in.
Any even vaguely law-focused activity under the sun seems to have a pro bono organisation or charity stepping in and making a difference. There are hundreds of organisations in the capital that need volunteers with legal skills. Some have certain requirements: volunteers must be a GDL/BPTC student, or must be DBS qualified. Many do not. All are fantastic, and some are more fantastic than others. The below are simply a handful that I’ve come across. Please do go and find others.
Citizens Advice (CA – previously Citizens Advice Bureau) is a national network that provides free, confidential and independent advice to help people overcome their problems. Citizens Advice recruits volunteers for courts across the country to provide practical and emotional support to witnesses. They also have project volunteers who focus on specific projects for a limited amount of time.
The most wide-spread and easily available of all the opportunities on this page, this is an excellent first stop for pro bono newbies.
Pro Bono Work Experience: Free Representation Unit
The Free Representation Unit (FRU) provides legal representation in social security and employment tribunals. You, a law student, could take a case to tribunal (and potentially to appeal), representing someone who is not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford a lawyer.
FRU it is one of the few organisations to where you can display your oral advocacy in front of a proper tribunal hearing. For that alone, it is a remarkable organisation, and well worth the serious time commitment it expects from its volunteers (both in terms of training days and case preparation).
Pro Bono Work Experience: Just for Kids Law
Just for Kids Law provides advocacy, support and assistance to young people in difficulty, whether these are in care, in trouble with the law, or at risk from exclusion from school. They also campaign actively for children’s rights within the youth justice system. Volunteering roles include legal caseworkers, youth advocates and mentors.
A focused organisation with a clear mission and inspiring success stories, pro bono work here is a must for anyone who wants to see the impact of front-line law on people’s lives.
Pro Bono Work Experience: Personal Support Unit
The Personal Support Unit trains volunteers with legal skills to provide practical and emotional support for litigants-in-person within the court system. Empathy and communication skills are the order of the day here.
Volunteers also get a unique view into the behind-the-scenes operating of the court system, as well as an insight into the lives of the thousands of people who face the legal system with no training or representation.
Pro Bono Work Experience: Toynbee Hall
Toynbee Hall contains one of the oldest and most famous legal advice centres in the country, offering law students the chance to provide legal advice (though not advocacy opportunities) in the fight against poverty.
Roles typically include providing an initial assessment of a client’s legal needs, researching areas of the law that crop up most often within Toynbee’s work (often Employment Rights, Housing and Consumer Debt, and Immigration Advice), or providing administrative support to their team of pro bono lawyers.
This is a minuscule selection of organisations that look for legal volunteers at certain times of year. Others include Liberty, Amnesty International, Justice, National Centre for Domestic Violence, AIRE centre, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, Bar Pro Bono Unit, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Human Rights Watch, Reprieve, Southwark Law Centre… the list goes on. So next time you find yourself trawling the internet for work experience, why not give pro bono a try?
If you are studying for an LLB or GDL, it is a safe bet that you will at some point undertake pro bono work. This is a way not only to build your CV and work experience, but also to provide a valuable service to people who otherwise could not afford representation. The Free Representation Unit is an example of one project you can get involved with – read all about volunteering with them here!