Imogen volunteered with the Hackney Community Law Centre through the City Law School's Pro Bono Community.
Course: GDL at City Law School
Graduation date: July 2014
What type of volunteering project were you involved in?
I was a member of the first cohort of volunteers with Pro Bono Community, through which I was a weekly volunteer at Hackney Community Law Centre. I got involved with Pro Bono Community in October 2013, after finding out about it through City Law School. They are an organisation which trains volunteers in order to improve their skills, before sending them into Law Centres to work with the public. The first stage is 'Level 1', which involves a training course followed by ten weeks of weekly volunteering. The training course was six sessions of lectures on the history and philosophy of the Law Centre movement, which included practical training on triage work at Law Centres. At the end of this training was an assessment, after which I was ready to be allocated to a Law Centre. I chose Hackney as I was keen to return to the same community with which I had previously worked as a teacher. After ten weeks of volunteering each Monday I was officially a Pro Bono Level 1 qualified volunteer. I have since completed the nine week level 2 course of lectures on the substantive law of Welfare and Benefits, I am awaiting my results from the Level 2 assessment and I am looking forward to my next block of ten weeks' volunteering over the summer to complete my level 2 qualification.
What did you enjoy most about it?
During my first block of ten weeks' volunteering, with the help of my fantastic mentor at Hackney Law Centre, I was able to progress quickly from triage and administrative work to preparing written submissions for Tribunals. This was a steep learning curve but was a valuable experience. It is not normal practice for level 1 volunteers to prepare such submissions but my supervisor invited me to as she was impressed by legal research I had done for her. My supervisor then decided that the written submissions were of such high quality that I would be able to represent the client at their Tribunal, at which they were appealing a social security decision. After winning that appeal, I was given the opportunity to represent three more clients at their appeals, all of which were successful. This was fantastic advocacy experience for me, as I am working towards being a barrister.
What skills did you gain through this experience?
Law Centre volunteering involves a large amount of working directly with clients, so I was able to improve my skills in conferencing, putting clients at ease, taking detailed instructions, managing expectations and above all developing rapport. My supervisor also gave me advice and feedback on drafting Tribunal written submissions and tips for oral submissions to make at the Tribunal itself. As well as this, I further developed my skills in time management, organisation and self-reliance.
Why would you recommend other students take part?
For anyone intending to work in law, Law Centres provide a fantastic opportunity to work directly with members of the public, applying the law for their benefit. This provides a useful contrast to the purely academic law which I was studying on the GDL. From the point of view of future job applications, the volunteering makes for a richer and more varied CV. I was lucky enough to be awarded an 'Achievement in Volunteering' Student Impact award by City University for my success with Law Centre clients at their Tribunal appeals. I would also recommend the volunteering as it is a chance to meet new, interesting people, both at the training sessions and in the Law Centre.
What do you want to do after university?
Next year, I will study the BPTC at City Law School. After that, I hope to gain pupillage and work as a barrister in public law.