The Nottingham Law School Pro Bono Group, which already runs a large number of schemes in the community, has pioneered two new initiatives for students.
The group has piloted a mentoring scheme designed to introduce secondary school students to the legal profession and legal education. It is aimed particularly at schools where students are traditionally underrepresented at law schools. The scheme involves a presentation by law students to secondary school students aimed at demystifying legal education and offering a run-down on what it means to be a lawyer. The law students are then made available to students as mentors and become a point of contact for those interested in further legal education.
The project was born out of the Streetlaw programme, which is a scheme involving the education of citizens about their rights. Nick Johnson, pro bono coordinator at Nottingham Law School, said: “Last year we worked with five different secondary schools and conducted teaching sessions with them, looking specifically at human rights and police powers.”
For its efforts, the pro bono group was acknowledged by the sponsors of the National Pro Bono Week 2003 – the Bar Pro Bono Unit, the Solicitors Pro Bono Group, the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Institute of Legal Executives – for the Streetlaw project.
The second initiative, currently under negotiation, is a move to place students with Nottingham City Council’s local trading standards department. Johnson says that the prospective scheme will place students on the front line for advice. “The trading standards department is pretty keen on the idea,” he said. “It will involve our students offering basic advice to community members approaching the trading standards department.”
Since 2002, the pro bono group has successfully instigated projects covering charity work, victim support, refugee action and age concern. Currently extracurricular and informal, the initiatives work on the premise that “imaging experience” (shadowing lawyers) allows students to cement their learning in a proactive way, while benefiting the community at large.
Eleanor Shanks, now a trainee at Norton Rose, helped coordinate the Streetlaw project and was involved in pro bono work with refugee centres, advocacy assistance and social services. She says the work was tremendously rewarding. “It gave a level of responsibility and teamwork that is difficult to get from other areas of the degree,” she said.
Johnson says that the pro bono opportunities offered at Nottingham Law School are beneficial in a variety of ways. “The students develop business development skills, and they learn to work with and develop clients,” he said. “In the big firms there is a limited amount of time when they can engage with clients. In fact, there is no direct client contact for a long time. Additionally, the students get satisfaction out of voluntary work and, importantly, they develop access to groups who wouldn’t normally think of being lawyers. And with luck, they also tend to keep up volunteer work in their practices, careers and personal lives.”