Voluntary contributions

Engagement in your community is a sure-fire way to impress a law firm, says TLT training partner Maria Connolly.

When interviewing candidates for training contracts, I’ve been struck by the increasing number of individuals who volunteer their time and skills to support their local communities, whether that’s helping their local schools, charities or community groups.

This is a very positive trend – for the individuals concerned, law firms, clients and the wider community.

Volunteering can give individuals first-hand experience of the challenges facing others, making them better informed and giving them a broader perspective. We’re finding that those individuals who have volunteered their time to actively engage with their community are often more confident and have more well-developed softer skills for example, time management, communication and interpersonal skills.

The advantage to any business is clear – a more rounded and developed individual is more likely to be able to take on early responsibility, is more likely to have better client management skills, and may work more effectively in a team. None of these is a given but in my experience it’s proving to be true. Community engagement can facilitate an innovative approach to practice and, when communicating and working with clients and other stakeholders, an increased sense that we are all contributing to the success of the extended community.

Some of the candidates I speak to, talk passionately about their work in their community and, whilst as an employer I’m clearly looking for technical ability and commercial acumen, the candidate who has dedicated time to helping others has an edge.

As a business we clearly have commercial goals but we recognise that we have a responsibility to the communities within which we operate. There is an inherent belief within TLT that how a business behaves locally in its relationships with employees, suppliers, clients, and the wider community shapes a firm’s reputation and that, in the long term, responsible businesses win reputation and market share.

Genuine community engagement – and by that I mean not simply to help tick a box in a tender – supports employee development, client service delivery and contributes to society at large. In fact it’s difficult to find a down-side! That’s why we are likely to pay attention to those who have volunteered before they join us and we want them to continue volunteering as an employee and to support this we offer every employee three and a half hours paid leave each month to engage in community projects, whether sponsored directly by the firm or of their own choosing.

Volunteering gives our employees exceptional personal development opportunities, enabling them to develop skills they may not be able to learn or practice in the same way through traditional workplace training programmes or in an office environment. As this tends to involve working in a different environment, with or without work colleagues present, it can provide an additional insight into how others work. There will be real challenges, both to preconceptions and to their own skills and abilities.

Not every firm will take the same approach TLT does to volunteering and it’s right to find a firm that suits you. However, if the firm you want to work for takes its corporate social responsibility seriously, you may want to consider including your volunteering activities in your application.