03:22, September 28 380 0 theguardian.com

2017-09-28 03:22:04
Guardian Students  Bring your law studies to life with pro bono work

If you’re tired of your law studies existing mostly on the pages of textbooks, pro bono work could be for you. By getting involved in voluntary law clinics, you can gain practical experience of live cases, boost your CV and make a difference by helping people who could not otherwise afford legal advice.

You may already be aware of the impact student law clinics can have. In 2014, the Cardiff University’s law school innocence project famously overturned the murder conviction of Dwaine George, while legal aid cuts mean many law schools are stepping up to fill the growing gaps in legal public services.

What’s in it for you?

“Pro bono helps students understand more deeply how the law works – and its ambiguity, through interviewing, negotiating and advocating live cases,” says Richard Moorhead, professor of law and professional ethics at the University College London law school.

It also adds real-world achievements to students’ portfolios. “Pro bono work has helped me enormously with applications, both to demonstrate my commitment to a career in law and to answer competency related questions,” says Nathan Samuel, who has just graduated from Cardiff University.

Finding pro bono work

Students can get involved by volunteering, through elective course options, or by choosing a course that includes mandatory pro bono modules (in law schools which also offer the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)).

Cardiff University’s six voluntary pro bono schemes are run in partnership with external organisations. As places are competitive, students have to apply for their chosen scheme through a rigorous application process, which includes a CV and competency based questions.

“Our projects are prestigious,” says professor Julie Price, director of the project and head of the pro bono unit. “Although there are no academic requirements, we try to choose the most suitable people and find something for all students who apply, but we cannot offer everyone client-facing work.” Cardiff has about 1,500 students (1,000 undergraduates) and about 150 are involved in the pro bono work, so the selection process goes some way towards replicating the competitive graduate jobs market.

What to expect

Hannah Camplin, who runs the law clinic at the University of Westminster, says the modules offer a useful mix of doing real work and being evaluated: “Students interview clients, and give advice in the form of a letter which is supervised by qualified solicitors. Combining on-the-job learning with assessment teaches transferrable skills, and forces them to reflect on what they have learned.”

Juwayriyah Budrudin, a third-year law student, says: “The fact that [the pro bono] module formed part of my degree and was assessed made me perform better than is required in a real professional setting in order to get good marks.

“My clinical experience developed my understanding of legal practice and utilise the skills I learned in a professional setting.”

Other pro bono paths

Not all pro bono work is based at university clinics. For example, housing and welfare charity Zacchaeus 200 Trust (Z2K) uses student volunteers to help people fill in benefit forms.

“The [z2k] student law clinic offers invaluable practical experience; from training in client confidentiality to experiencing real client contact,” says Maddison Redgwell, who is in her final year at the University of Westminster.

“The best thing about the work is knowing that we are assisting real clients that need our help,” she says. “My pro bono experience does not simply add skills to my CV, it has opened my eyes to real issues within the community and has shaped me as a person.”

Pro bono can also be a career catalyst. Shiva Riahi, manager and research associate at the Centre for Access to Justice, was inspired by her final-year module placement and decided to join the faculty. “It is a transformational experience,” she says. “For the first time, I truly understood the structural problems that people face with the system, even basic things like filling in forms.

“We run reflective sessions for students to understand the wider context, and the implications of people not having access to justice. Students are the next generation of lawyers and judges, so if we can expose them to these issues early on, hopefully things will change.”

Whether it is compulsory, elective or voluntary, pro bono work can boost your chances of getting work when you graduate, and help you to do some real-world good in the meantime.

Follow Guardian Students on Twitter: @GdnStudents. For graduate career opportunities, take a look at Guardian Jobs.