The Law: Charity

Fewer deadlines can make charity work a less pressurised
practice, but lawyers must handle a vast range of issues

The Law: CharityWhats it all about?
Because most major charity clients tend to use the same firms for all their legal advice, working for a charity law firm usually involves a very broad range of disciplines. For this reason a week in the life of a charity lawyer can involve anything from advising on corporate and property deals through to licensing, copyright issues or a mixture of the whole lot.

Charities have lots of different legal structures, meaning that they can operate in very different ways from each other and from commercial institutions, such as corporations or banks.

With some significant exceptions, charities tend not to have pressing deadlines in the same way many other types of clients do, meaning that the pace of life in a charity practice is often more relaxed than in other types of firms.

The pros:
Opportunities to change the world for the better
Varied work
Unique and interesting clients
Good work-life balance

The cons:
Lower pay rates than in top commercial firms
Smaller sector, so limited opportunities for lateral career move

Some City firms offer secondments to charities, so these are worth investigating. Also, many law schools offer pro bono opportunities with charities. See the pro bono section on page 54 for details

Also, even major charities such as Oxfam and Amnesty International have an emphasis on cost, meaning they are often prepared to be more flexible if they can get work done competently at a lower price.

The working culture
Although their work is demanding for the reasons described, charity lawyers tend to have a better work-life balance than their counterparts in major City firms. Also, because charity lawyers are more motivated by a love of their work than by money, charity firms often enjoy a greater esprit de corp.

Why is this interesting?
The wide range of work that clients demand of their law firms means that charity lawyers enjoy a great deal of variety. Even more varied are the clients themselves, which can range from international relief agencies through to local bodies dedicated to local issues, faith groups, amateur sports clubs and pressure groups dedicated to everything from human rights abuses to global warming.

Personal and legal skills required
Because much of the work you will handle is commercial in nature, a few years spent practising commercial law is a great way to prepare yourself. As it is harder to go from charity law into commercial than it is to go the other way, it makes sense to get this experience early on in your career. Being able to communicate with all sorts of people is vital, as the varied nature of your client base means you will mix with people from a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Case Study

London-based charity specialist Bates Wells & Braithwaite advised TV chef Jamie Olivers Fifteen Foundation charity on a project to help disadvantaged young people get into the restaurant trade.

The scheme involved an extension of the training programme run by Olivers Fifteen Foundation to train young chefs from disadvantaged backgrounds. The new project involves the launch of a restaurant, which will be leased to one of the Fifteen graduates on condition that they train more young people in its kitchen.

Stephen Lloyd, Bates Wells managing partner, negotiated royalties for the licensing of the Fifteen brand, such as for use for merchandising purposes or TV rights.

He also advised the foundation on financing, borrowing and property acquisition (buying the building and land), as well as VAT issues.
The restaurant will be opened by the end of 2006 in Wethersfield, Essex.