The benefits of getting involved in pro bono

Martin Barnes - The benefits of getting involved in pro bono

National Pro Bono Week 2017 is here and it presents a great opportunity to promote pro bono projects and recognise those who volunteer their time and their expertise. Supported by the Law Society, the Bar Council and CILEx, the week recognises and celebrates pro bono undertaken across the year. For you as a law student, it is a good time to explore opportunities and how to get involved. You can get involved with a pro bono project at your law school, there may be opportunities to help out at your local Citizens Advice or Law Centre, or you can join together to develop a new pro bono project.

LawWorks is a charity working in England and Wales to connect volunteer lawyers with people in need of legal advice, who are not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford to pay, with the not-for-profit organisations that support them. LawWorks believes strongly in creating an enduring pro bono culture among law students; we see it as an integral way of instilling the ethos of pro bono in the next generation of lawyers.

While LawWorks is passionate about pro bono, it is important to highlight that it is not, and should not be seen as, an alternative to legal aid – nor a substitute for funding for advice agencies and law centres.  But pro bono can, and does, make a difference to the lives of individuals and communities, including the community organisations which support them. As a law student, you can also make a difference.

Pro bono is becoming more prominent in law schools – the latest figures from the independent clinics in the LawWorks Clinics Network demonstrate the breadth of student pro bono activity in England and Wales. The report highlights that over a third of clinics in the Clinics Network now operate within law schools. From April 2016 to March 2017, over 2,500 students were reported as volunteering in these clinics and dealt with over 15,500 enquiries. This demonstrates the vital contributions that students and law schools make to pro bono clinics across the country.

The evidence and feedback from law students is pro bono activity can be immensely satisfying, and can provide valuable experience and learning - helping to develop confidence, skills and aptitudes that are readily transferable. For many, participating in pro bono can help inform a career path to follow; it can strengthen your CV and job applications; it can inspire an interest and commitment in pro bono that can last throughout a career.

Every year LawWorks celebrates the valuable contribution students make to pro bono through the LawWorks & Attorney General Student Pro Bono Awards. The 2017 awards (at an event held at the House of Commons) demonstrated the innovation, commitment and dedication of law students today. Pro bono activity commended included: a project that provides advice to homeless people and people with drug and alcohol problems; an initiative which provided assistance to former employees of a steel works following its closure, and several projects which provide assistance with the completion of application forms for disability benefits.  There are many innovative, diverse and impactful pro bono projects to get involved with or to help launch or develop.

With the importance of pro bono in mind, if you are looking for something charitable, fun and unique to get involved with this National Pro Bono Week, why not register a team for the Bar Pro Bono Unit and LawWorks ‘Law School Challenge’?! We are looking for teams of students representing universities and law schools nationwide to compete against each other and raise funds for both charities to support the facilitation of free legal advice, and to raise awareness of the services available. The team that raises the most money will receive a LawWorks Student Award endorsed by the Attorney General – a great accolade for any aspiring lawyer (or, indeed, fundraiser!).

Help us to promote the importance of pro bono work in legal education and get as many law students as possible engaged in pro bono. Tell us what pro bono activities you are involved in by using the hashtag #WeDoProBono or #NPBW2017; photos, comments and publications are all welcome. To find out more about the week, please click here.

In addition, LawWorks is holding a Student Pro Bono conference, with the University of Manchester, on 11 November. More information on the LawWorks website here.

Martin Barnes is the chief executive of LawWorks (the operating name of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group). Follow LawWorks on Twitter at @Law_Works.

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