Volunteering and pro bono organisations

I’ve received a lot of messages asking for help with gaining legal work experience – and while many of my articles are targeted at applications, few are focused on voluntary or pro bono activities. [A quick note though: to be successful in your applications it’s important to have work experience, but not a requirement that that experience is legal – I talk about framing other types of work experience on a podcast here and in writing here (although mentioned in relation to mature students, this advice applies to all ages!).]

As money-poor students or time-poor workers, it can often be a struggle to fit in, or commit, to voluntary or pro bono work – but if you can, then I have found these opportunities highly rewarding. You can: shape people’s lives; make a difference; solve real-life issues; boost your confidence; provide access to justice; grow skills like advocacy, time management, team-work; develop your understanding of law in practice, something university doesn’t always do…!

pro bono

Just like I’ve done for sources of wellbeing and mental health support – I thought I’d create a list of some of the amazing organisations and initiatives that I’ve come across (many of which I’ve also worked at/with/for). This will be a developing list, so if you know of any others – please do comment below or send me a message.

Organisations/Initiatives (some UK/London only):

  • Free Representation Unit – an incredible charity providing representation in employment and social security hearings, for people who are not eligible for legal aid but cannot afford lawyers. Volunteers have to undergo a weekend of training and pass an exam (the pass rate is apparently around 50%). I myself undertook and passed the training and testing in 2018, during a very hectic summer of vacation schemes, so it’s by no means impossible to fit it around work/study. I would highly recommend it as it gives law students the opportunity to actually represent clients in tribunals and take ownership of casework; a rare chance to practice real advocacy and help people who sorely need it. Many practising lawyers also volunteer with the unit, and all cases are overseen by legal officers so you’re not left on your own.
  • Advocate – a charity that seek to, “match members of the public who need free legal help with barristers who are willing to donate their time and expertise in deserving cases for those who are unable to obtain legal aid and cannot afford to pay.” They need both barrister volunteers and office volunteers – offering a range of opportunities based on your level of experience and qualifications.
  • London Legal Support Trust – LLST raise funds for free legal services in London & the South East. They support the provision of specialist legal advice through law centres, advice agencies and citizens advice services by providing them with grant funding alongside technical and practical support. Highly needed in light of legal aid cuts. I interned with them back in 2015, well before I started university, and they are an incredible organisation raising awareness, funds and connections that help people in need gain access to justice. They also organise the annual London Legal Walk – an event that I have been part of for the last six years. Last year almost £900,000 was raised for legal advice from the walk alone. They recruit interns and others year-round, and it is a great chance for students to see another side to the legal world.
  • Amicus – a charity that helps provide representation for those facing the death penalty in the United States. As a student you can apply here to be a representative, a key part of the Amicus organisation. They also offer placements here which range from office-based support to being assigned to work on death row cases.
  • Law Centres – one that was specifically mentioned by a follower was the London-based North Kensington Law Centre. Local law centres allow both students and practitioners to give back to the community, help people solve issues and learn valuable skills.
  • Victim Supporthelping people affected by crime or traumatic events get the support they need and the respect they deserve. I worked with the Repeat Victims Service in 2015. The work Victim Support do is vital to ensuring a victim’s voice is heard, especially in today’s criminal justice system. They offer free and confidential support and advice – and have specialist teams who can support victims of domestic abuse, young victims and the families of victims of homicide. You can find out more about volunteering here.
  • The Access to Justice Foundation – another amazing organisation that I also worked for – ATJF aim to increase the support available to vulnerable people requiring access to the legal system through strategic grant making and supporting the advice sector.
  • Pro Bono Community provides training in legal advice and social welfare law to lawyers, trainees and students and then placing them as volunteers at Law Centres and advice agencies. You can find out more about volunteering with PBC here.
  • Street Lawadvances justice through classroom and community education programs that empower people with the legal and civic knowledge, skills, and confidence to bring about positive change for themselves and others.
  • Lawyers Without Borders – a not-for-profit whose mission is to promote rule of law around the world by leveraging and promoting pro bono service to meet the needs of the under-served, build capacity in justice sectors and support transitions and development aimed at protecting human rights. Their opportunities world-wide to get involved range from internships to student divisions.

These are just a handful of some of the incredible organisations out there that not only offer students and practitioners opportunities but are helping shape the world for the better, provide access to justice, give the voiceless a voice and promote human rights. They are also often in dire need of help from us in the legal sector to provide our services to them and the people they represent. Hopefully this has inspired you to apply to or explore these organisations and is a useful resource.

(Don’t be shy…click ‘Leave a comment’, share this post if you like it; email, tweet and generally pester me if you want to hear more/share your stories/say hi)

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