Law students see the value of voluntary work
Law students see the value of voluntary work
More than 70% of national law firms have increased their pro bono commitments in the last three years. This is something that’s high on the corporate agenda, even during the current economic downturn. In difficult times the importance of helping disadvantaged sections of the community is more important than ever.
The College of Law, the UK’s leading provider of professional legal education, training and pioneering mentoring programmes, has been running an award winning pro bono programme for the last eight years. In 2008 the department won the Attorney General’s Best Law School Student Team award for their ground breaking work. Pro bono or voluntary work for the public good offers both Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) students on the job training, opportunities to solve real life legal problems and ways to help the wider community.
Heather Smith is the lead tutor responsible for award winning pro bono work at Chester and Manchester College of Law, due to open in September 2009.Here she talks about how voluntary CSR activity undertaken by College students is benefiting the wider community. She says: “Many new graduates want to get involved in pro bono work to give something back to the community and enhance their chances of gaining a training contract. Over the past two years approximately half or about 2500 registered students at the College have indicated their willingness to get involved. “
“The College offers a unique pro bono programme to both students and the wider community. We encourage our students to join a voluntary project and interact with real people that have real life legal problems. We find that the best way for students to learn is on the job. It’s great that they can put their academic training to practical use before they start work at a firm or organisation. Plus those that need our help benefit from having top quality advice from some of the country’s finest legal minds.”
The College has developed outside links with organisations such as ‘Streetlaw’ a programme that started during the 70s in America to help local communities become more aware of their legal rights and responsibilities by using law students to empower community groups. Today students at the College have developed this idea by writing lively interactive presentations and taking them out to various community groups to illustrate how the law can help, for example, single parents or young people that have been excluded from school.
Currently Chester College students work at the Legal Advice Centre in Chester which provides free legal advice for members of the public. This project works in a structured way – two student advisers take the call, a supervisor gives them advice and monitors them, the students undertake legal research and then produce a letter of advice.
Carina Kervin, an LPC student in year 2008/09, worked at the Legal Advice Centre and believes that most law firms are looking for students that have undertaken pro bono training.
“Pro bono experience really adds value to your course, it’s unique and it’s nice to be able to support those that need help. I got involved with working at the Legal Advice Centre and loved helping the local community. It’s great to be able to use the skills I’m learning on my LPC. This project allowed me to replicate life in a legal office, deal with real problems, practise client confidentially, interview a client and search for real solutions. It also looks great on my training course application form and helps me stand out from the crowd.”
James Stubbs, a GDL student in the 2008/09 year, believes pro bono work can be an incredibly powerful experience to develop a deeper understanding about a career in the law.
“The pro bono opportunities that are available in Chester was one of the major reasons I decided to join the College of Law. I was chosen to take part in the Employment Rights Hotline. This was a two week opportunity that involved fielding real life calls, gathering facts, researching answers, speaking to an employment solicitor and then taking part in a conference call. It was great to actually help a real life client especially as many of the people we advised were unable to afford a practicing solicitor. This experience gave me the confidence to apply for paid work experience placements for the summer. It’s wonderful to be able to put your academic training to good use.”
Manchester College of Law is planning to work with Manchester University, when the new centre opens in September, at their Legal Advice Centre. Many of the legal problems that the centre deals with are too complex for law undergraduates at the University so these will be passed on Manchester College of Law students.
Smith explains how pro bono students really do stand out from the competition:
“Law is now a very competitive career choice. It’s important for our students to have an extra string to their bow. Pro bono activities can help in all sorts of ways that add to the experience of studying at Chester and Manchester College of Law. For example it has been well documented that pro bono students are often more motivated and perform better in interviews in comparison to those students that don’t get involved.”
Law firms now have a firm stance on pro bono involvement and it is seen as an essential part of working in a business. Geoffrey Bush, David Grayson and Amanda Jordan, with Jane Nelson note in Engaging Business in the Community – Not a quick fix that business engagement with the community is no longer an afterthought. It has moved rapidly in recent years from the margins of company activity to the corporate mainstream. They agree that the collaboration between government, business and community is an incredibly powerful force for change.
Both students and law firms agree that pro bono work is a useful tool in developing a career in law. It works two fold by allowing students to help the local community and gain useful real life experiences at the same time.