Chair Matthew Rhodes OBE set the tone for the talk by saying ‘lawyers tend to have a fairly developed social conscience’ and that ‘everyone in the law should do something, simply because they can’.
Tony King, formerly of Clifford Chance and now chair of the City of London Law Society’s Training Committee, told the audience that ‘pro bono is a fantastic way to develop a lawyer’s skills’ and that it is also an ‘aid to improving employability’. When interviewing prospective trainees during his previous employment, King mentions that he was ‘always impressed by those who had volunteered to work at a law clinic’.
Deuan German, director of Communities Empowerment Network (CEN), was able to offer a different perspective on student pro bono work. His organisation provides free advice to the parents of young people facing expulsion from school, and is assisted by the pro bono work of BPP students. German says that the families who come to the CEN ‘are in pieces’, and that the students therefore have the ‘opportunity to give support to those most in need’.
Victoria Speed, joint director of BPP University's Pro Bono Centre, spoke next, and she reflected on the dual attraction of pro bono work, as ‘students recognise that pro bono work is an opportunity to gain skills, but also that their role as a lawyer goes beyond their own careers and what they aim to be’.
BPP runs over 20 pro bono projects under its Streetlaw initiative. Students must apply to take part and then undergo training, after which they are sent into prisons, schools and homeless shelters in order to assist some of society’s most vulnerable people. Speed says that ‘if you’re able to deal with clients in tears and clients who don’t speak English very well, you will fly when you start working at a law firm’.
Naturally, the topic of continued legal aid cuts and its impact on pro bono efforts was raised by a member of the audience. King responded by saying ‘it is shocking what is happening to legal aid’, while Patrick Cahill, legal manager at Queen Mary University of London, insisted that ‘student pro bono shouldn’t be expected to pick up the pieces of legal aid cuts’.
For more information on The BPP Pro Bono Centre, see here