2018 Open Justice Award Winner Lidia Dancu reflects on her experience working with the Open Justice Centre

The most rewarding experience of my LLB has been my involvement with the pro-bono activities. I have always been passionate about access to justice, but being able to be involve myself and to contribute gave me the first hand experience needed to complete my understanding of its complexity and how pro bono work fits into that.

I was fortunate to be able to be involved in the pilot online legal advice clinic from its inception in 2017 so I had the opportunity to be involved in a number of cases. As part of the Law in Action module, I chose to do school presentations and due to a number of factors I was able to run four different sessions, three in Scotland and one in the North of England.

What has impressed me most was the passion, enthusiasm and commitment of the Open Justice team who provided teaching, guiding and supervision, whether in the online law clinic or with the public legal education activities. No question was out of place and no request for help was too much.  The atmosphere has always been of collegiate collaboration, rather than having a hierarchical structure with the qualified solicitors at the top and us wannabe lawyers at the bottom.  In the legal advice clinic, we were encouraged to take ownership of a matter and to apply what we learned theoretically during the course in a practical way.  During the public legal education activities, we were charged with educating young people about the law and were trusted with an ambassadorial role.  Being given this level of responsibility, inevitably leads to a desire to create and deliver quality work.  And in order to do so, you must acquire a variety of legal skills, like legal research, communication and analytical reasoning which are invaluable as a future lawyer.  You also engage with concepts of ethics and conflicts of interest which often provide room for further reflection.

A big part of the pro-bono work has been teamwork, which had its challenges but also its rewards: learning collaboration, better communication and leadership, but at the most fundamental level, simply being able to discuss a legal issue and to bounce ideas. When undertaking school presentations it was great to be able to have the support of your team when required.

Working in the legal advice clinic provided the perfect complementary understanding of the law. I am now of the opinion that the study of law without having the practical experience of working with real clients on real cases, is incomplete, regardless of whether one intends to practice or go into academia. Apart from the scope of testing applicability of the law, the pro-bono work provided me with a broader substantive experience by giving me the opportunity to gain a deeper knowledge in areas of law which I wasn’t familiar with, or to consolidate my existing knowledge.

Being involved in pro-bono work also provided me with a testing ground for a career in practicing law. I know with complete certainty now that I wish to practice law, which is not something I knew when I embarked on my degree.  Further, it has allowed me to start developing my own concept of what my professional identity is and the kind of lawyer I want to become.  I have always been motivated primarily by the need to right wrongs and to contribute to social justice, so being able to become, however small, a cog in the access to justice machine has been not only personally rewarding but also satisfied that need we all have to be of service to our fellow man and to be connected in some positive way to our community.