updated on 05 May 2021
A big part of every application process involves showcasing your skills and extracurricular activities – this is what sets you apart from other candidates with similar academic grades and degrees. For aspiring lawyers, pro bono work acts as a fantastic way to gain legal work experience and build on skills that every legal employer looks for in their employees while giving back to your local community. I have outlined five key skills that you can gain from undertaking pro bono work, which will help you to stand out in the application season and where you can find these opportunities.
The most obvious, but also some of the most valuable, set of skills you can gain from pro bono work are legal skills. This involves the ability to draft legal documents, interview clients and develop excellent attention to detail, among others. Volunteering for your university’s legal clinic, the local citizens advice bureau or initiatives such as Support Through Court provides you with invaluable experience to interact with real clients and get access to casework. As law students are aware, it can be difficult to access legal work experience and internships, which is why undertaking pro bono work is a fantastic opportunity to show employers your interest in the legal profession and build on a set of skills that would be essential for your journey as a lawyer.
A big part of working for any law firm, big or small, is working with other people. Most law firms put a large emphasis on the importance of teamwork and interviewers pose this standard question (or some variation of this) to all applicants: “Tell us about a time you worked in a team to achieve a common goal”. Undertaking pro bono work largely involves working with other volunteers. For instance, when working at a legal clinic, you will work in teams to interview the client, draw up a timeline of the events, and draft your letter of advice for the client. Your supervisor will encourage you to work with other volunteers to complete the tasks, much like at a law firm. Working in teams also acts as an umbrella skill that helps you to improve other essential skills for aspiring lawyers, such as communication and interpersonal skills.
As you progress through your legal career, you will be given more responsibilities which could include managing your own team and having fellow colleagues report to you. Therefore, having good leadership skills will prove very useful in the long term. A great way to develop this skill is by applying for project leader roles at legal clinics, pro bono societies at university or volunteering to take charge of a task while working with other volunteers. The more you undertake these roles and put yourself in positions of responsibility, the more confident you will feel about your leadership abilities.
Excellent communication skills, both written and oral, are integral for every legal career. You will be communicating with clients through emails, writing letters of advice for your clients and, if you aspire to be part of the judiciary someday, good written communication skills are essential for your judgments. At the same time, you will need excellent oral communication skills to argue in court and discuss legal options with your clients face to face. Undertaking pro bono work is an excellent way to develop and improve these skills. For example, you can enhance your written communication skills by volunteering at a legal clinic where you will learn how to draft letters of advice for clients and improve your oral communication skills by volunteering at your local Citizens Advice Bureau, providing legal advice to callers over the phone.
Pro bono work will allow you to interact with a range of people from all walks of life in various situations and circumstances. This will act as an excellent lesson in how to deal with different types of people and develop your interpersonal skills. Whether you intend to become a barrister or a solicitor, your ability to interact with people in a positive manner will be crucial to the progression of your career. You will be faced with clients from various backgrounds, cultures and nationalities which is why it is important that you have well developed interpersonal skills that will help you to work with individuals, no matter their background, in a positive and constructive manner.
Where do I find pro bono opportunities?
Many universities now have their own pro bono clinics or societies. This is where you should start your research on pro bono opportunities. If this is not available to you, another accessible option is to volunteer at your local Citizens Advice Bureau which gives you the opportunity to provide confidential advice on the phone and in-person to clients or volunteer as a Witness Service volunteer where you provide information about the court process as well as emotional support to witnesses about to testify in court. Visit the Citizens Advice website and search for your local branch to explore what volunteer opportunities are on offer. Alternatively, you can volunteer for organisations such as Support Through Court, which provides the opportunity to work in courts helping vulnerable people navigate the court system and acts a great way to learn more about the court process in the UK.
Another great place to find more pro bono opportunities is through LawWorks. LawWorks is a national charity that provides lawyers with pro bono volunteering opportunities by connecting them with individuals in need of free legal aid. They also provide information about legal clinics around the UK and how you can volunteer with them. Visit their website to find out how you can get involved. You can also find a list of pro bono initiatives via LawCareers.Net.
Finally, I highly encourage students who do not have a pro bono society or legal clinic at their university to take the initiative and create one! Pro bono societies and clinics create invaluable opportunities for students while giving back locally and nationally. If you would like advice or suggestions on how to run your own society, do not hesitate to get in touch!
Anagha Jadhav is a final-year law student and president of the University of Nottingham Pro Bono Society – the society won the award for best pro bono activities at the 2021 Student Law Society Awards.