Pro Bono – Keeping it Fresh by Simon Langley

Former ‘Justice in Action’ student Simon Langley writes about his experiences working in the Open Justice online clinic.

When I first started the module and working in the Open Justice law clinic I had little idea of what pro bono work was. I had heard the phrase at various points in my life and during my studies, but other than stifling the snigger from my inner school boy I hadn’t really stopped to think about what it was or its importance within the legal field. I work in a field where we rely on volunteers, why hadn’t I considered the importance of volunteering in the legal field?

After completing the practice case I felt I had an idea of the sort of case we were likely to see. I hadn’t really considered the people behind each case or the emotions we would need to consider around each case. I felt prepared for our first live case by the end of the practice case, but that confidence diminished after reading through the details when they came through. This was obviously a person at the end of their tether.

During our test case I had noted that “our interview technique needs to improve and be tidied up to ensure that we get all of the information required in as streamlined a way as possible”.

After reading through the case it became obvious that this interview would need us to ensure we considered and managed the emotions of the client. This would assist with getting the facts of the case in a logical way without it all seeming too clinical. My initial thoughts on how we should work through the case hadn’t taken into account that this was a person, and while it was important we stuck to the processes and procedures set out by the clinic, we also had to take into account how we came across to the client. Prior to interviewing the client, I feel it will be very important we have a good understanding of the details that we have and ensure we are as warm and engaging as we can be to make the client comfortable.

This is something I hadn’t even considered about pro bono work. In most jobs it is easy to get into a routine and once that happens it is easy to get into lazy habits. By undertaking pro bono work and coming out of your comfort it forces you to up your game and consider how you are viewed by other people. This has to be beneficial when going back to your every day work as some of the lessons that you learn can easily be carried over and adopted within your normal working practice.

I also wasn’t expecting the type of case that we got. I had a preconception of the nice simple one dimensional legal issues that would come up, so was caught a bit off guard when the case came through. Again, in the legal field it is common to specialise in a very specific area of the law, so being forced out of your comfort zone, again, can only be a good thing to freshen up your work and ensure you become complacent.

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