Josie Beal of Prettys Solicitors talks about the volunteering services at the Suffolk Law Advice Centre run by the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality.
What is the name of the scheme which you participate in and what does it entail?
The trainees from Prettys, together with volunteers from other local law firms regularly volunteer at the Suffolk Law Advice Centre organised and run by the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE). The scheme offers weekly 30 minute appointment slots, booked in advance, for members of the community to receive free legal advice in a variety of areas. Volunteers are provided with appointment sheets in advance which contain details of the client’s problem. The volunteers consider and research the problem and prepare advice. Advice prepared by trainees is checked by a senior member of staff. The volunteers then conduct the appointments at ISCRE’s offices.
What benefits do you think the scheme provides to those who receive the services?
The scheme allows members of the local community to benefit from free legal advice sessions. Given the reduction in the availability of legal aid, this can be a huge benefit to those who may not be able to privately fund legal advice. The individuals gain peace of mind and reassurance by being told their legal position and what the available next steps are. The scheme helps to widen the availability of access to justice.
What benefits do you get from particpating in the scheme?
Volunteering at the Suffolk Law Advice Centre is first and foremost a rewarding experience. It is very satisfying to know that I am contributing to the community within which I work and helping those in need. From a training perspective, the scheme is also hugely beneficial. I am able to practice and develop my skills in approaching and researching a problem, preparing advice and conducting client meetings. The direct client contact is invaluable experience that will stand me in good stead as I develop as a young lawyer.
What do you enjoy about the scheme and what do you find challenging about the scheme?
I enjoy helping people and, insofar as possible, offering the clients peace of mind and direction. I have found that this is very important (and understandably so) for those who have no legal knowledge and who are faced with a problem that they do not know how to deal with. The appointments can sometimes be a challenging experience. In particular, the clients may be very emotional or angry about the situation they have found themselves it or, alternatively, their query may be somewhat different to the guidance in the pre-received appointment card. Learning to adapt to these situations and ensure that the client leaves the appointment feeling reassured has been incredibly valuable and useful from a career development perspective and it is also hugely rewarding to help people from a personal perspective.
What is the importance for you in doing pro bono work and why would you encourage others to get involved?
I think it is very important to contribute to your community and use your skills to help those who otherwise may not be able to access legal advice. As members of the legal profession, we should take a keen interest in ensuring that the underlying principles of the law are met, namely the provision of access to justice and, where the prospects of this appear limited due to financial cuts and constraints, we, as a profession, should help where we can. I think that by contributing a very small amount of your time, comparably you can make a very big difference to those in need. You can also help ensure that meritorious cases are advanced in the correct way and improve access to justice.