updated on 03 December 2019
During the summer of my first year of university, I volunteered for the Personal Support Unit (PSU) in the Royal Courts of Justice. I soon learnt that volunteering with the PSU is a really valuable addition to your CV! Volunteering with the PSU taught me how to assist and communicate with vulnerable people and court staff, how to complete court forms and effectively hone my client-facing skills.
About the PSU
The PSU volunteers offer free, independent assistance to litigants in person who are facing proceedings without legal representation in civil and family courts and tribunals. It is a fantastic charity that trains individuals to support litigants in person throughout civil cases by offering practical and emotional support. The PSU is a successful charity; despite not providing any legal advice, they managed to help clients gain access to justice on almost 45,000 occasions last year. The PSU team usually varies from fundraisers and treasurers to the trained student volunteers. I was interested in being a student volunteer because it provided me with direct access to court hearings and offered me the opportunity be at the heart of the legal world, while developing my client care skills.
The PSU accepts applications from students at any stage of their legal education. As a student volunteer, you are asked to complete 20 days of volunteering over a 12-month period. The application process is very straightforward. I simply emailed the PSU branch at the Royal Court of Justice (RCJ) to register my interest in being a student volunteer. I was then invited for a short interview with an RCJ coordinator who presented me with scenario questions and questioned me on what I wanted to gain from this experience.
The training at the PSU was thorough and effective; it consisted mainly of reading, shadowing and carrying out administrative work. In my first week of training, I worked through the PSU’s detailed handbook and familiarised myself with the charity’s policies, rules and code of conduct. I also read up on other legal advice agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), Free Representation Unit (FRU) and the Bar Pro Bono Unit because the PSU often signpost clients to relevant authorities if needed. My shadowing days at the RCJ, Thomas More Building and the Central Family Court (CFC) provided a unique insight into the nature of the charity’s work. I spent my time listening to often distressed clients, accompanying them to court, taking notes during hearings and reassuring them. While the work was sometimes highly emotive, I found it very rewarding because you are doing important work that makes a material difference to people’s lives.
Nature of work
It was a demanding role and even as a student volunteer, there is a lot expected from you. Working in the Central Family Court was emotionally draining because at times the outcome of a client’s case can play on your emotions. This was something I struggled with at first but, with time, I developed the ability to control my emotions while at work.
Despite the eclectic mix of clients that turned up at the office every day, the PSU team remained client focused, respectful and committed to each client’s individual needs. All volunteers were determined to provide clients a high-quality service, whether that was advice, hand holding or offering tea with biscuits!
What did I gain?
Everything! The PSU experience provided me with valuable lessons in law and life. If you volunteer at the PSU, you will become familiarised with court work, legal procedures, filling in information on court forms, and get used to organising court bundles. In time, you will find that your time management, communication and interpersonal skills will improve dramatically. You will also find that you develop compassion and the ability to refrain from being judgemental; vital skills for all lawyers. I would definitely recommend this role to all aspiring solicitors and barristers.
Christianah Babajide is a law graduate and blogger at LawCareers.Net.