What is pro bono?
What do you mean? I hate U2!
Why get involved with pro bono work?
Why should you care about pro bono work? What does this term ‘pro bono’ even mean? It really is much more than just a CV booster and I’m going to tell you why.
Pro bono is shortened from the Latin term “pro bono publico”, meaning “for the public good.” It involves lawyers and law students giving up their time on a voluntary basis for people who need legal assistance, but aren’t in a position to get the necessary support.
However, not all pro bono groups are directed towards people seeking legal advice. E.g. the Streetlaw project targets school children between the ages of eight and 16; giving them an insight into law with the aim of raising their aspirations, as well as increasing their knowledge of law in a broader sense.
Pro bono projects differ greatly in what they offer to both the volunteer and those who benefit from it. There’s something available for everyone wishing to get involved; you could even set up your own pro bono group!
How pro bono benefits you
The personal benefits of pro bono work are both extensive and varied. Group involvement tests and strengthens your teamwork skills, and you also develop your leadership skills if you get involved with the organisation and co-ordination of projects.
Interacting with people from different sectors of society helps you to develop greater personal confidence and other necessary and useful skills, such as negotiation, advocacy and public speaking. E.g. if you become involved with FRU (the Free Representation Unit) then advocacy skills could be readily demonstrated and honed.
On another level, involvement with pro bono work can prove a welcome change from academic work, while remaining a worthwhile way to use your spare time.
The wide range of skills you may develop and perfect can really benefit you in your future career. In the current economic climate, with competition for training contracts and pupillage keener than ever, this kind of involvement can give you an edge over other candidates.
There are many people in need of legal assistance and the capacity to pay for legal help increasingly limited.
Pro bono involvement is a great way to ‘showcase’ your expertise in the area of law that you wish to pursue, while providing a useful service to the people that really need it.
If you can choose the specific pro bono project become involved with, then you should base your decision on the area of law you are most interested in. E.g. if you’re interested in human rights law, you could become involved in schemes like the ‘Innocence Project’ where you may be able to represent and litigate for wrongfully convicted people.
These extra skills can improve your chances of securing a training contract or pupillage.
If you have demonstrated your commitment and interest in the law by becoming involved with pro bono, (especially if it is relevant to your choice of firm or chamber) then this will shine through in an interview.
The growing importance of pro bono…
Recently, the importance of pro bono work has increased. The LawWorks (the working name for the Solicitors’ Pro Bono Group) pro bono awards for practitioners and students identify and acknowledge people who have contributed.
LawWorks collaborates with a vast amount of law firms, evidencing how seriously pro bono is viewed within leading firms. Barristers also dedicate part of their time to pro bono and the Bar Pro Bono Unit co-ordinates the participating organisations.
Lawyers from all areas of practice recognise the importance of pro bono. As a student wanting to enter into a legal career, demonstrating you have been involved with the law on a voluntary level, even before qualification, can only be seen as commendable.