Pro Bono: The Free Representation Unit (FRU)
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!
What is the Free Representation Unit?
One of the best-known projects that you can get involved with is the Free Representation Unit, commonly referred to as ‘FRU’, the history of which dates back to 1972 when it was founded by several students at bar school. Today FRU is the largest single provider of pro bono services in the UK and is well-known throughout the legal community.
What type of work does FRU do?
The Free Representation Unit has two streams of work with which volunteers can get involved: Employment and Social Security. Employment cases tends to be longer, more complex cases focusing on legal issues such as unfair dismissal, harassment or discrimination. Social Security cases tend to be shorter and focus on appeals against the client’s entitlement to benefits. In both streams, the purpose of FRU is to represent the client up to and including the hearing at the First-Tier Tribunal, and in further appeals if appropriate.
What responsibilities does a volunteer have?
Volunteers have a number of responsibilities. These include interviewing the client and taking instructions, procuring further evidence from witnesses, and making written and oral submissions to the tribunal.
Moreover, in the Employment stream volunteers can be required to negotiate with the other side and conduct both examination-in-chief and cross-examination in court. These are skills which are transferable to the actual practice of law, most especially if you are pursuing a career at the Bar.
The more experienced a volunteer is, the more complex the cases that he or she is permitted to work upon. However, even your very first cases as a volunteer carry a high degree of responsibility. For example, in Social Security, a failed appeal against a decision to disallow your client’s benefits has a tangible impact upon their quality of life; this is all the more significant given that most clients have serious physical and/or psychiatric conditions.
How do I join?
The Free Representation Unit has a four-stage process for joining.
- You must book yourself onto a training day for either the Employment or Social Security stream. These training days cost £50 and are held three times a year: in September/October; January/February and May/June. They provide an introduction to the law and procedure relevant to your stream.
- You must pass a written test that FRU send you via email. There is no time limit on how much time you can devote to the test and the work can be done remotely.
- You must attend an office induction at the FRU office. These are typically available on a weekly basis.
- You must attend and observe a tribunal hearing in your chosen stream.
It is important to stress that the training days usually book up well in advance. Without attending one of these, you cannot work for FRU. It is therefore important to visit FRU’s website regularly to see when the booking system opens and avoid missing out.
Are there any requirements for joining?
The requirements for joining FRU are as follows:
- Social Security: Have reached May in the penultimate year of an LLB or started the GDL
- Employment: Have completed an LLB; started the GDL or an post-graduate law degree
- Other situations: CILEx students can volunteer for FRU if they have completed their level 3 diploma. If you have practical experience of representing clients in the tribunals we cover, but do not meet our requirements, you may still be able to volunteer. You should contact FRU with details of your experience.
Where can I find further information?
Any further information you need can be found on the FRU website. The pages concerned with how to join FRU are particularly useful for budding volunteers.