Our client: If it wasnt for you, what would have happened to us? Wed have lost our home. Thousands of law students every year help people who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, and they really make a difference. More universities and law schools than ever have a pro bono programme and future lawyers can start to practise their skills at the earliest possible stage in their careers.
The satisfaction of helping someone in distress is part of the attraction of doing pro bono. This year students have been helping prisoners who need to have their criminal cases reviewed in case there was a miscarriage of justice. Others help victims of domestic violence to apply for injunctions to keep the perpetrator away. Large groups of London students assist duty advocates in the County Courts on possession days, when landlords apply to evict their tenants regardless of their vulnerability. One group helps asylum seekers apply for bail so that they can leave detention. Students are helping people who are the most desperately needy in society at times when they are facing crises. Its a good way of deciding why the law is the career you want.
A commitment to access to justice, the rule of law and upholding human rights are keystones of a lawyers makeup. Pro bono enables students to become involved with more experienced lawyers in a variety of projects, including international pro bono. Some help on case preparation for death row clients, others work with international human rights organisation Interights to summarise human rights cases from all over the world which go to build up case law used by lawyers in their frontline cases. Some students assist commercial lawyers in international trade and finance cases, including defending governments of developing countries faced with crippling debt. The opportunity to work alongside top pro bono lawyers is there and in volunteering a student can gain special insight into a legal career, and certainly the experience helps when applying for jobs.
Developing skills, knowledge and understanding of the law is the educational objective of law schools clinical legal education programmes, alongside a strong commitment to social justice. Thats not the only kind of pro bono on offer. Community legal education rights awareness programme Streetlaw is aimed at groups. Students work with community groups, schools, and prisons to present interactive sessions on citizens rights and responsibilities and explain complex legal issues.
So, if anyone asks you what pro bono is good for, its good for everyone: students and their clients, the community and society in general, and, given the scope of international pro bono, it makes a difference all over the world.
Sara Chandler, associate professor and director of pro bono services, the College of Law