Pro-bono works: Employability success for students

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Marcus Keppel-Palmer, Director of Pro Bono, reflects on the experiences of some recent Law students who have worked in the UWE Pro Bono Unit:

Employers, Law firms particularly, view students who have undertaken Pro Bono work very favourably. Not only does participation in Pro Bono show commitment by students to a legal career, but it also gives valuable opportunities for students to develop their lawyering skills beyond the classroom. Additionally, the virtues of working on real life cases adds a layer of “real work” with its need for teamwork, time management and communication skills. The Business Advice Clinic has operated a team this past year advising members of the Network for Creative Enterprise based at three sites in Bristol and one in Bath. The experience has proved valuable to the students who worked in this pressurised environment, and they have all been able to use the experience to obtain employment at the end of their courses.

The team consisted of mainly LPC students, Lucie, Henry, Matt, Ryan, Gabriel, Edwin, and one LLB student, Siddique. Lucie has obtained a training contract with Foot Anstey and her experience with the Business Advice Clinic played a part in her obtaining this role. As she commented: “The drop-in sessions at Spike Island, Watershed, The Guild and Knowle West Media Centre have provided students with excellent exposure of working with clients, and has assisted in the development of start-up businesses (many of which are UWE graduates) across Bristol and Bath.”

Matt obtained a job with Reynolds Porter Chamberlain before completing his LPC. He commented on his experience in the Clinic: “The NFCE Business Clinic has provided fresh challenges on every occasion. For a law student, pursuing a career as a practising solicitor this has been an extremely beneficial experience. In the sessions, we have dealt with a remarkable range of issues and have tackled any problems head-on. From another perspective, I strongly believe that the advice we have provided has positively impacted the businesses and people, we have been able to reach. And for me personally, it has been very fulfilling to give back to Bristol and its exciting entrepreneurial community.”

Siddique, as the only undergraduate found himself working with LPC students, but settled in well as he gained in confidence. He has set up his own sports agency business and has used the experience of advising similar businesses at the BAC to inform his decisions. Siddique commented: “I feel BAC has enabled me to develop a different skill set in comparison to placements that I have done. The reason for this is because unlike other experiences BAC puts a lot of responsibility on myself and other students. This means a substantial portion of the legwork such as interviewing clients, researching their problems and coming up with solutions was left to us and then later double checked by supervisors. Additionally, the focus on providing business advice to a range of business is different from other Pro Bono schemes. Finally, BAC also provided me an opportunity to develop practical skills to work in a variety of commercial environment as client’s issues range from intellectual property law to contract law. I believe moving forward BAC will help me greatly as it has shown me the various ways in which law interacts with the world and demonstrated the different avenues of work aside from becoming a barrister or solicitor.”

Ryan obtained a legal team assistant position with Burges Salmon and he attributes his experience at the BAC to assisting him with coming over as a credible candidate in interviews. Ryan commented: “The Business Advice Clinic provided me with invaluable experience which helped develop my understanding of a number of commercial areas, as well as my confidence. From the outset you are given real responsibility from conducting the interview right through to providing the advice. Having this experience has been a real benefit in interviews. It has helped me back up my commercial interest which is always a difficult question to answer and has enabled me to draw on real experience of the potential legal issues businesses can face.”

Although Edwin, as a Malaysian student, is concentrating on obtaining a Masters, he is still looking for ways to work in the UK. Henry, howver, has taken a job overseas. He is currently working as a paralegal with International Law Firm Dentons in Qatar and is considering an offer from the firm to undertake a training contract over there. Gabriel has, like Siddique, used his Pro Bono experience to go into a career analogous to the legal profession but not directly in private practice. Before graduating from the LPC, Gabriel attained a role at Leidos, the defence and aviation company. Gabriel said: “Interacting with clients and being able to help them with their legal issues was the most rewarding aspect of the Pro Bono and the most practical for my legal career. Being able to learn from my supervisor and my peers was also very insightful and helpful.” And in assisting his employability, he commented that “In Employment Interviews I was able to use my past experience such as conducting client interviews, researching legal documents and drafting legal contracts in Pro Bono for my job interviews. It was very useful in explaining the experience that I obtained and how it made me a stronger candidate for the role”.

Certainly the experience of this group of students in the Business Advice Clinic has shown how the quality Pro Bono experience offered by UWE can translate directly into the workplace upon finishing a course. But working in other Pro Bono activities is equally valuable in terms of employability. Cameron, who this year has headed up the Bristol Musicians Advice Service, is using his industry knowledge with an Events and Entertainment company, whilst Jason who ran the Anti-Death Penalty Group this past year is working in an in-house legal department.

Both Ryan and Gabriel advise all UWE students to do Pro Bono activity. Gabriel says that “Doing Pro Bono work opens up avenue in terms of people you meet and legal issues that you encounter, is great for your CV as well, and you get to meet different people from your class”, while Ryan commented specifically on the BAC: “I feel that all future students would benefit from participating in the clinic. It will build confidence, help develop essential skills for interviewing & advising, further understanding of the potential legal issues a business may face and provide exposure to a wide variety of businesses.”