In January 2006, Dentons (then legacy firm Denton Wilde Sapte) set up a legal advice clinic in East London’s Poplar (inventively called Poplaw).
They asked Queen Mary’s students to assist, and I was one of the volunteers at the first session. I had no idea back then that I would be attending Poplaw five years later, but this time as a Dentons trainee and Poplaw legal advisor. Coincidentally, the supervisor at this first session is the partner I now share an office with, having qualified into her team this year!
There are many reasons to get involved with pro bono work, not just as a student, but also as you continue your career as a trainee and qualified lawyer. You get face-to face client contact, develop your interviewing, research and drafting skills, and demonstrate flexibility, dedication, team work, open mindedness, organisation and a commitment to access to justice. It gives you the edge over your peers in an incredibly competitive job market.
As a student, I worked at the legal advice clinics of several City firms. It was an excellent opportunity to work with lawyers and get a flavour of what a career in the City is like – especially as I hadn’t managed to secure a vacation placement.
Pro bono work can be time consuming, and as your coursework starts piling up, it might seem crazy to volunteer for more work. However, as well as providing a service to the community, you’re giving yourself a massive head start in interviews. Pro bono work is genuinely important to law firms, and odds are, your interviewers will be involved in their firm’s pro bono work, which immediately gives you something in common. This instant connection is not to be undervalued.
You’re able to give far better answers to the question “why do you want to work here?” if you’ve been involved in pro bono work with the firm. Other candidates will be reeling off what they have read on the firm’s website, while you will be able to praise the firm for its commitment to pro bono, which you have proven you share.
You will also be able to say that you’ll be a good fit for the culture of the firm, based on the experience of already having met and worked with its lawyers. The firm is your number one choice based on actual experience, something your interviewer will be convinced by and appreciate. Furthermore, pro bono work provides you with answers to pretty much any competency-based question the interviewer is likely to throw at you!
So the question isn’t should you do pro bono work, it’s why wouldn’t you?
Emma Zymanczyk is a solicitor at Dentons