Pro bono work

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Giving students the opportunity to develop practical legal skills, pro bono work allows you to contribute to your local area by helping those in need

Pro bono work is the delivery of free legal advice services to those who don't qualify for legal aid and would otherwise be unable to afford the help that they need.

Grace Kelly is the London clinics and student project officer at LawWorks - one of the country's leading pro bono charities. She believes that the provision of free legal advice has never been more essential.

'Cuts to legal aid mean that pro bono work is becoming an ever-more important source of access to justice, with students playing an increasingly important role,' she explains. 'While it's clear that pro bono cannot be seen as a replacement for legal aid, it does provide an important lifeline to many with nowhere else to turn.'

Grace recommends that students look at the activities on offer within their own law school, and find ways to develop or expand the services already provided in their local area.

The LawWorks Law School Pro Bono and Clinic Report 2014 revealed that at least 70% of law schools are now involved in pro bono and/or clinical activity, meaning that it's never been easier for students to get involved.

How to apply

  • External placements - Students and universities can partner with advice agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and their local law centre to arrange pro bono partnerships.
  • Free Representation Unit (FRU) - This gives students the opportunity to acquire advocacy experience. FRU volunteers help with case preparation and advocacy in tribunal cases under the supervision of caseworkers.
  • Internships with legal charities - LawWorks, the Bar Pro Bono Unit, the Access to Justice Foundation and Legal Support Trusts are often looking for interns to support administration.
  • Law school legal advice clinics - This provides a fantastic opportunity for students to get real-life experience working on client cases under the supervision of qualified lawyers.
  • Miscarriage of justice and the Innocence Project - A growing number of universities around the UK are taking on criminal cases to help victims of alleged miscarriages of justice.
  • Public legal education and Street Law - The law school will make links with local schools, prisons and community groups to find out which areas of law they would find useful to know more about. The students then research the topic, ascertain the law applicable and prepare interactive workshops to deliver to the group.

'When approaching any organisation, it's important to explain what you have to offer and how long you’re able to work for,' adds Grace. 'Often it's about getting that initial introduction and using that as an opportunity to secure some work shadowing, or helping with legal research further down the line.'

Advantages of pro bono work

Whatever pro bono work you do, the benefits are numerous.

'Pro bono offers students the opportunity to gain practical legal experience, foster links to legal professionals, firms and advice agencies, and develop legal skills that aren’t taught in the classroom,' says Grace. 'Pro bono is a great way to add value to your training contract and pupillage applications.'

Helen Ingram was the winner of the Best Contribution by an Individual Student Award at the LawWorks & Attorney General Student Pro Bono Awards 2015.

'I've undertaken a trafficking legal research internship, volunteered on the Employment Law Telephone Advice Line (ELTAL) and am a student director at the Legal Translation Service (LTS).

'Pro bono gives students the opportunity to not just develop their professional skills, but to get involved in meaningful work. I gained experience in legal research and interfacing with clients. Having the chance to interact with clients has not only given me more confidence in a legal context but also a greater understanding of the vital role that the law plays. This is all invaluable knowledge and experience for any aspiring lawyer.

'It's hugely rewarding to know that the research or translation that you undertake will be used to enable an individual to gain access to justice.

'The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC) have quite demanding workloads, and it’s important not to let either the pro bono or your coursework suffer. However, this is also a valuable lesson, as the demands to balance priorities will only grow as your career develops.

'My advice is to apply for projects straight away. Getting stuck in is a great way of learning to balance different commitments with your workload.'