Below Francine Ryan, Lecturer in law at the Open University, and responsible for the Open Justice Law Clinic, explains to Lawyer Monthly the benefits to law students of being involved in pro bono.
Pro bono is derived from the Latin term pro bono publico which can be translated as ‘for the public good’. In a professional and legal capacity, lawyers provide free legal services to members of the public who are unable to pay. For many a commitment to pro bono work is part of their ethical duty and should be a requirement of professional practice. In England and Wales, pro bono is a voluntary undertaking, which is encouraged by the regulatory bodies of the legal profession. So why is pro bono important for you as a law student? Below I set out a few reasons to consider.
Engaging in pro bono work provides you with practical experience and an opportunity to see how lawyers work in the real world. You will be able to work with individuals and organisations who are facing real legal problems and challenges. It brings law to life and shows what a difference you can make to your community.
What kind of lawyer do I want to be?
Many law students are not clear about what area of law they would like to work in. Pro bono exposes you to different areas of practice and gives you the opportunity to think about your career choices.
How will it help my law career?
Pro bono work is a fantastic opportunity to develop your legal skills such as client interviewing, drafting letters of advice and practical legal research. But it is not just about legal skills as you will improve your organisational, interpersonal and leadership skills. It adds value to your CV and may give you the opportunity to build links with law firms and advice agencies. Demonstrating a commitment to pro bono is highly regarded by employers.
Feel good factor
One of the main benefits of pro bono work is the satisfaction of helping disadvantaged people gain access to justice. Giving back to your local community engenders a sense of pride that you have been able to help and make a difference in someone’s life.
What pro bono opportunities can students get involved in?
There are variety of opportunities you can get involved in, most Universities offer pro bono activities at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
Legal advice clinics: many Universities provide a law clinic where students can volunteer. Clinics can be a mix of on and offsite, predominately offering face to face advice with some clinics offering a skype or email service. The Open University is about to launch a virtual law clinic recognising the impact technology is having on the provision of legal services. You can follow our progress on Twitter.
Public legal education sometimes called ‘Streetlaw’: offers students an opportunity to go into schools, community groups and prisons to provide presentations on a range of legal topics. Delivering public legal education is important in raising awareness of legal rights and empowering people to have the confidence to gain access to justice.
External placements: students can volunteer with advice agencies such as the Citizens Advice, local law centres or the Personal support Unit. Volunteering will give you experience and an insight into the work of the organisation.
Innocence projects: a number of Universities assist alleged victims of miscarriage of justice to clear their names. Working on these projects may inspire you to become a criminal defence lawyer!
Free Representation Unit: provides representation in employment and social security hearings. Students are eligible to be FRU volunteers and it gives you the opportunity to represents clients before the Employment and Social Security tribunal, providing invaluable advocacy experience.
Charities: offer a range of legal work opportunities- you could be a helpline volunteer for ‘Families Need Fathers’ or an intern at ‘Lawyers Without Borders’. Whatever your area of interest there is a charity which needs your support.
Studentprobono.net has a list of pro bono activities and advertises volunteering opportunities, which may be of interest to students who are unable to access pro bono programmes at their own University.
Getting involved in pro bono brings countless benefits and I would encourage you to find out more about the student pro bono activities taking place in your University.