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Pro Bono Work & Volunteering: Is it Important for Training Contracts?

Law Training Contract Application Specialists

Pro bono work is providing legal advice or representation without charge. It can be on behalf of individuals, charities, or community groups. Pro bono work must be free to the client for the entire case, and it must be provided voluntarily by the lawyer or the firm.

Legal aid spending is falling in the UK, with a 38% drop suffered from 2011 to 2017 in real terms. This saw the forced shutting of law centres (independent publicly funded legal services), which has made pro bono work all the more vital. In light of this, law schools have made a pronounced effort to include more pro bono focus, as it provides students with the opportunity to see the work that they are doing come to life, and in doing so helps others. Numerous firms have established pro bono relationships – and will therefore be likely to ask about it at interview for training contracts or vacation schemes. The importance of pro bono work in the UK is also being augmented by the influx of US firms, who historically are perceived as having a greater focus on pro bono work.

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Why undertake pro bono work? Is it just for Training Contract Interviews?

There are various reasons that you might want to undertake pro bono work. Consider that it could increase your job satisfaction in the future; it could help to develop the skills that you have learnt during your law degree; it could broaden your ability to communicate with others across diverse backgrounds; it could make you better at developing relationships with others, and it could expand your network and help you to stand out from others. Generally, those who are most active in pro bono work are much more likely to excel in job interviews. It shows that you are proactive and driven, and that you are willing to do more than the ‘minimum’ as is set by your degree or current work. Crucially, it will help others. You have a responsibility as a trained lawyer to ensure that others can access high quality legal advice, even if they cannot afford to pay for it. 

How can I undertake pro bono work?

Any legal work that you undertake could be done pro bono. Pro bono work could involve court appearances, advice sessions, working with charities, preparing documents, doing international work, or performing research. Whilst you’re at law school, there are many ways to get involved. Some universities have their own legal advice centres, spurred on by the recent closures of law centres. Other law schools offer pro bono programs through links to particular organisations, like Cardiff Law School, whose Innocence Project undertakes work on behalf of prisoners who maintain that they are innocent. There are even national prizes available to students who excel in pro bono work. Whilst an undergraduate is far from a practising lawyer, they can still provide advice to others assuming that they have a suitable support system in place to do so.

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Requirements for undertaking pro bono work

There are various requirements that you must fulfill in order to take on pro bono work. First, you need insurance. This can be easily acquired through pro bono charities and providers of pro bono. You might also be able to extend your existing legal insurance through your firm to cover pro bono work. This should certainly be possible at firms that place a significant emphasis on pro bono work. You don’t need to record how much time you spend doing pro bono work, although remember that if your firm places an emphasis on it, you might either want or need to track it. If you are doing pro bono work or volunteering to help others in order to boost your CV, then you will certainly want to track the work that you are doing.

Pro bono costs orders

Pro bono costs orders, also known as section 194 orders, are just like ordinary legal costs orders but apply when one party has benefited from free legal representation. The court may order the losing party to pay an amount that is based on what a paying client would receive, and that covers the period when free representation was provided. The costs are paid to the Access to Justice Foundation, which then gives the money to providers of free legal advice. This system means that pro bono work can, effectively, help fund further pro bono work. 

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