Giving students the opportunity to develop practical legal skills, pro bono work allows you to contribute to your local area by helping those in need
What does pro bono mean?
Pro bono work is the delivery of free legal advice services to those who would otherwise be unable to afford the legal help they need and who don’t qualify for legal aid.
Is it essential for my law career?
From a training perspective, pro bono work can be hugely beneficial. It provides an opportunity for you to practice and develop your skills in approaching and researching a problem, preparing advice and in some cases, conducting client meetings. You may also be able to have direct client contact through pro bono work, which is invaluable experience that will stand you in good stead as you develop as a young lawyer.
As a whole solicitors recorded more than 1.4 million hours of pro bono work in 2015/16. Solicitors who undertook pro bono and recorded their time, averaged 32 hours' work each across the year and more than a quarter of pro bono solicitors provided more than one week's worth of free advice. The number of solicitors recorded as providing pro bono legal services remains fairly steady, with 57% of firms and 37% of solicitors providing pro bono services in 2015/16.
How will it help my law career?
Studying law can be quite theoretical; however, engaging in pro bono projects gives you the opportunity to move out of the classroom and put legal theory into a practical context. You get the chance to:
- add value to your CV and training contracts and pupillage applications
- build links to professionals, firms and advice agencies
- develop legal skills such as interviewing clients and drafting letters of legal advice
- explore practice in new areas of law
- gain practical experience by recognising and researching legal queries for real clients
- make a valuable contribution to your local area.
Most law firms recognise the value of giving back to their community and encourage their staff to use their skills to help those who otherwise may not be able to access legal advice. They will do this typically through a corporate social responsibility programme. As members of the legal profession, it's important to ensure that the underlying principles of the law are met, namely the provision of access to justice. By contributing a small amount of time through pro bono programmes run by your law school or by volunteering with other organisations, you can make a very big difference to those in need.
Am I qualified enough to do pro bono work?
Pro bono work should always be done to the same standard as paid legal work. For law students, this will mean that pro bono work will need to be supervised by a qualified solicitor or barrister.
Where can I find pro bono opportunities?
- Public legal education and Streetlaw - Law schools often make links with local community groups, schools, prisons etc. to find out what areas of law they would find useful to know more about. Students then research the topic, identify the relevant law and prepare interactive workshops, which they deliver to the group or class.
- External placements - Students and universities can partner with advice agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or their local law centre to arrange pro bono partnerships.
- Law school legal advice clinics - Run by the university, these are a fantastic opportunity for students to get real-life experience working on client cases under the supervision of qualified lawyers.
- Miscarriage of justice and the Innocence Project - A growing number of universities around the UK are taking on criminal cases to help victims of alleged miscarriages of justice.
- The Free Representation Unit (FRU) - Gives students the opportunity to acquire advocacy experience. FRU volunteers help with case preparation and advocacy in tribunal cases under the supervision of caseworkers.
- Internships with legal charities - LawWorks, the Bar Pro Bono Unit, the Access to Justice Foundation and Legal Support Trusts are often looking for interns to support the administration of their organisations.