Volunteering with Citizens Advice - what are the advantages?
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Citizens Advice is a national charity that has 600 locations supporting people across the United Kingdom. Some of the most common issues that the charity helps people with are benefits, debt, housing and employment, but the free support that it provides to thousands of people is not limited to these areas. In general, the issues that it deals with involve the law in action. This is part of the organisation’s main objective: to simplify the legal terminology and processes that often seem daunting to the general public.
This is also why it is such a good place to try and get a volunteering position. When you’re looking to stand out in law firm applications, it is really useful to have some volunteering experience under your belt. Not only does voluntary work show that you are a kind and giving person, but volunteering with Citizens Advice in particular has an array of added benefits for law students. Seeing the law in action for individuals across various fields such as employment, tax, or housing, can be really helpful in deciding which area of law is most appealing to you.
Most Citizens Advice offices offer voluntary roles in many different areas – from receptionist or research to advisory roles (the latter requiring a fair amount of training). The work you will do in these roles will vary slightly; however, any experience working for Citizens Advice is really useful when you’re building a portfolio for a career in law.
For example, I spent a summer volunteering at my local Citizens Advice as a research and campaigns volunteer. The position was not advisory since I did not have the legal background or training necessary to have direct contact with clients and help them individually. My role was much broader and involved working on creating a campaign which would affect the whole county. Part of the work involved researching, analysing and collecting survey data from members of the public and compiling talks and leaflets for the campaign. As the position involved talking to local people, it was especially useful because it allowed me to develop the research and interpersonal skills needed to become a good lawyer.
There are other reasons why aspiring lawyers should try to get a volunteering placement with Citizens Advice (if possible). Most lawyers in large law firms will have to carry out pro bono initiatives at some point in their careers. An individual-focused, in-depth advisory role can prepare you well for such initiatives, as well as for face-to-face client work.
One of the most challenging aspects of my role at Citizens Advice was coordinating and leading a small team, as I’d not taken on this type of responsibility for a project before. I learned a number of valuable lessons about leadership which helped me to prepare for application questions and interviews in which I was asked about skills that I’d developed. These types of experience can serve as useful examples of where you’ve held a role of responsibility.
Citizens Advice relies on its volunteers, so not only are you boosting your own experience by participating, you are also helping the many people who rely on the organisation’s support. Moreover, you’ll be developing crucial skills that you might need later on in your career, which is invaluable. The opportunity to volunteer at Citizens Advice is a really fantastic way to deepen your knowledge and understanding of how the law affects people in real terms, and this is why it is one of the best places to volunteer if you are an aspiring solicitor.