“It’s quite hands-on for students. They do all the interviewing, they do drafting, they meet clients. They run their file independently with supervision from solicitors in house”, Faye Deverell explains. It’s clear from the off that Nottingham Law School students are given a lot of responsibility with their pro bono work. The Centre covers a range of areas of law, including social welfare law, property law and employment law, so there’s certainly plenty the 250 students who have opted to do pro bono work can get their teeth into.
Nick Johnson also rightly observes that whilst being actively involved with pro bono work at university is great for a student’s employability, “we try to inculcate a notion that pro bono work is part of being a professional lawyer”. Nevertheless, Faye points out how students’ experience and pro bono work with the Centre has enhanced their chances of securing interviews for vacation schemes and similar legal work experience. “They’ll use their experience to come across as legally skilled.”
But how much does pro bono work contribute to students landing a coveted training contract or pupillage? Nick mentions how in some cases students who have worked with the Free Representation Unit (FRU) have secured four and five figure settlements for their clients at tribunals, which impresses massively on an application. He also points to the supervision provided to students by the Legal Advice Centre; this is almost certainly more than students would get whilst on work experience, allowing their legal skills to develop further. Undertaking pro bono work at the Legal Advice Centre is obviously beneficial to students’ future careers, but Nick is careful not to place too much emphasis on this; “There are a number of factors which means a student gets a training contract.”
It’s clear that Nottingham Law School students benefit from working with the Legal Advice Centre. But what is it exactly that allows students to develop their legal skills that stand out so prominently on their CV’s? Students are put into trios, where there might be an undergraduate student paired with two postgraduate students, so there’s an element of peer learning. Additionally, students who have been working with the Legal Advice Centre for a number of years have the opportunity to handle cases independently, having proven their competencies and skills. However, first years who are part of a trio are “thrown in at the deep end” and are expected to interview clients as part of their team. It pleases Nick and Faye to see those who stay at Nottingham Law School for the entirety of their academic career progress with their legal skills too. “It’s great for us to see a student’s skills and abilities progress and it’s great to have students undertake pro bono work for two years and progress to handling a case on their own.”
The Centre has also applied for ABS status, and are awaiting the verdict from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). How will this benefit students? Faye explains that it would allow students to experience what it’s like to work in a law firm. “It’s certainly going to enhance the student experience, develop their skills further and make them aware of how a legal firm would work in practice. We’ll try to replicate challenges they will face in their careers; ultimately, firms don’t just carry out pro bono work.”
Overall, Nottingham Law School and the Legal Advice Centre offer students a unique opportunity to gain legal work experience. Faye closes on the fact that she graduated from Nottingham Law School before the Centre was in existence and “If the Centre was here when I was a student, I would definitely have done pro bono work.”