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Alex Cisneros

Community Volunteering gave me the motivation I needed. I could see exactly how, each week, I was learning to be better at my future job

No5 Barristers' Chambers

Graduation date: 2015

What type of volunteering project were you involved in?

I volunteer in social security tribunals and represent vulnerable individuals who have had their benefits removed illegally.

What did you enjoy most about it?

Before coming to City, I worked in the field of human rights. I am fundamentally motivated by my desire to help marginalised individuals. This volunteering project allowed me to do that. It brought me into contact with real life clients and gave me an insight into what my future career as a barrister might look like. Without having this opportunity, I would probably not be as focused on the area of law I want to go into.

What skills did you gain through this experience?

Doing a professional course in a classroom setting can seem quite artificial. We learn the skills needed for a career in law but it is hard to imagine what such a career will be like in real life. Volunteering in a real tribunal enabled me to test out the skills I had learnt in school and see what a career at the Bar is really like.
Once we got into the tribunal, I employed the advocacy skills that City prides itself on. I remember on one occasion consciously slowing my speech down as I had been instructed to do. Advocacy in front of a real life judge is very different to doing it in front of your tutor. Judges I have had have been far less patient when I ask for a glass of water or mumble over a weak submission.
Most importantly, I learnt how to relate to people. It is no good just learning the law and skills in advocacy, having volunteered with real clients, I now know that the ability to speak to vulnerable people is important. It is something only volunteering could teach you.

Why would you recommend other students take part in Community Volunteering?

Community volunteering benefits students in three ways. Firstly, it allows you to put into practice that which you learn in the classroom; secondly, it develops the classroom skills by giving you real life experience; and finally, volunteering boosts your CV by showing that you are dedicated to the subject.
I am doing a part-time course which means that I come into university two nights a week. Sitting in a lecture theatre at 8pm having done a full day's work can often make you question why you are doing this to yourself. However, once I started to get involved with Community Volunteering, it gave me the motivation I needed. I could see exactly how, each week, I was learning to be better at my future job and could put into context every lecture I went to.
Secondly, I have seen my grades go up in the areas that I have volunteered in. Being forced to use skills in a professional setting has meant that I have developed them much faster than if I had learnt them purely from books.
Finally, having just completed a round of applications, I can say with confidence that volunteering helps your CV. I was able to evidence every point I made with a real life example and show that I am dedicated to the area.

What do you want to do after university?

I want to be called to the Bar and practice in an area that allows me to represent vulnerable clients.