The power of pro bono: how volunteering can kick-start your career

Oliver Haddock

Pro bono volunteer work is, first and foremost, a chance for those in the legal profession to use the skills that they already possess. In doing so, we provide an essential lifeline to many that would otherwise have no recourse to legal advice or assistance.

What many younger members of the profession fail to appreciate, however, is that volunteering is a hugely effective method of both honing existing skills and acquiring new ones.

In such a fiercely competitive profession, it is important to maximise any opportunity to give yourself a competitive edge over your peers.

Practical skills

Opportunities to run client meetings are inevitably few and far between in the early years of your career. Yes, you will have the chance to learn from your supervisor, but that can’t compete with the hands-on experience of volunteering.

As lawyers, we are required to draw out the salient points from the information provided to us and to pinpoint our client’s objectives. The difficulty is that we are often presented with vast amounts of information. Volunteering provides you with the first-hand experience to enable you to pick out the key points in different scenarios and to direct a client meeting in order that you are provided with the relevant information as efficiently as possible.

Volunteers are forced to think on their feet; one is required to formulate preliminary advice on the spot and suggest relevant actions. All of this can seem daunting, but after just a few sessions you will begin to have relevant experiences to draw on.

Drafting basic correspondence and researching points of law are staples of trainee and NQ life at a law firm. More often than not though, your supervisor will provide you with the instruction. When volunteering, not only do you get to practice these fundamental skills, but you begin to connect the dots from the clients’ objectives to the specific research topic or document required.

Employable skills

The corporate social responsibility movement and, to some extent, the influence of US firms on the UK market has lead even those firms most demanding of billable hours to give great weight to pro bono work when considering prospective candidates. Rightly, it seems firms really do recognise the importance of the professions role in society.

When it comes to interviewing, you need something to make you stand out. What better way than giving up your free time in the name of hands-on legal experience to evidence all of those infuriating buzzwords – passion, drive, commitment et al. – without having to recite the shopping list.

Depending on which clinic you attend, you may also be able improve your understanding of an area of law you are particularly interested in practicing. Some clinics will specialise in specific areas of law, but even the general clinics will help build your skills in certain areas such as employment and disputes. This is not only of use to those seeking training contracts, but can give current trainees a boost when requesting a particular seat or applying for NQ roles.

London Young Lawyers Group pro bono awareness campaign

In the wake of cuts to Legal Aid and other key social welfare budgets it is more important than ever to volunteer.

If you are interested in doing so then the London Young Lawyers Group is running a Pro Bono Awareness Campaign with the support of LawWorks.

The LYLG’s aim is to raise awareness of some of the amazing pro bono organisations in the capital, in the hope of increasing volunteer numbers. We have teamed up with five partner pro bono clinics who are offering opportunities to advise clients as well as the chance to shadow experienced volunteers and even attend training sessions.

All the details of partner clinics and the different opportunities available can be found here.

Oliver Haddock is a trainee solicitor at RadcliffesLeBrasseur and Development and Events Officer of the London Young Lawyers Group.