This chapter focuses on what drives law students to volunteer and how to encourage their involvement. More information for students who are interested in doing pro bono work can be found at 2.6 ‘I am an individual lawyer or barrister looking for opportunities to get involved’.
- 18.1 Law students: at a glance
- 18.2 Law students: benefits
- 18.3 Law students: challenges/limitations
- 18.4 Features of effective student pro bono
- 18.5 Case studies
18.1 LAW STUDENTS: AT A GLANCE
Features of effective student pro bono
Law students make a significant contribution to the capacity of pro bono. Among the 131 CLCs that responded to the National Association of Community Legal Centres Survey published in August 2014, 55.2% of all individual volunteering hours came from law students, in contrast with 31.4% from lawyers.1
Senior caseworker at the Welfare Rights Centre in Sydney, Danny Shaw explained that law students are motivated to volunteer by a number of factors. ‘Most students like the idea of helping people and getting experience in talking to clients and in understanding how a CLC operates. They want to see what the law is like in operation. They want to gain experience in taking instructions from clients and to see how a case is run. Basically students are looking for experience in working in a legal setting and this is what we can give them. Some students even want to know about social security law!’
Students contribute in a variety of ways to the provision of free legal services. They may volunteer to help increase the capacity of a community legal organisation to undertake its legal work, or staff a clinic. Student clinics are usually attached to a particular university law faculty and are staffed by law students who offer legal services to clients under the supervision of a managing solicitor. Many student clinics are run in conjunction or partnership with local CLCs. In some cases student clinics are established and run by the university law school itself. There are also isolated examples of programs run in association with Legal Aid Commissions, the courts, another university, or directly with a law firm.
Homeless Persons Legal Clinic uses six students who spend half their time at the clinic and the other half at the firm assisting. (PBRO manager)
UQ has provided us with a student researcher to assist with drafting a second edition of Disabled justice: the barriers to justice for persons with a disability in Queensland. (CLC coordinator)
Several of the pro bono coordinators consulted said that their firms were not involved in student clinics as it was too difficult to ensure quality control and there was not enough value from the firms’ perspective for the effort required to run.
There is value in encouraging a pro bono culture via student pro bono, but this can be achieved in other ways. Student clinics are more about training and experience for the students than about delivering quality services to address unmet legal need. (Large law firm pro bono coordinator)
There is also some debate about whether student pro bono work that is undertaken in exchange for academic credit actually falls within the definition of pro bono. The Director of Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH), Tony Woodyatt, expressed the view that as long as the service is provided free to the clients, and the clients receive quality legal assistance, the distinction is of little practical relevance. He compares the arrangement where universities pay the organisations that host and supervise students doing pro bono work with law firms that pay their lawyers to do pro bono work, and questions whether there is any difference. He also sees student clinics as a way to obtain the support of the university through funding contributions and the involvement of university staff members. ‘The involvement of law students in the work of QPILCH is critical to its ability to address demands for assistance.’
18.2 LAW STUDENTS: BENEFITS
Like volunteers who are qualified lawyers, law students who undertake pro bono work can increase the capacity of community organisations to deliver free legal services and thereby contribute to access to justice.
Students undertake policy work that the CLC would not otherwise have the time or resources to pursue. (University pro bono manager)
They are the first point of contact when clients contact us so it is clear to both us and them that they are vital to the organisation. (CLC coordinator)
However, many of those consulted identified the key benefit as being the inculcation of law students with a pro bono culture, and the development of a personal commitment and the skills to practise law in a way that promotes social justice. These skills include legal and work environment skills, particularly interpersonal skills required to deal with colleagues and clients in a legal professional environment.
Students are provided with quality opportunities to do pro bono work and build a social justice/pro bono culture. (University pro bono manager)
Students who participate in pro bono clinics are going to be part of the future of pro bono. (PBRO manager)
Where a university is involved, student pro bono work can also strengthen the relationship between the law school that the participating students come from and the local community, and enhance the image of the law school.
18.3 LAW STUDENTS: CHALLENGES/LIMITATIONS
Given that students have limited professional experience, they are likely to require more training and supervision than qualified lawyers, and are limited in the type of work they can do. The host organisation needs to have the resources to appropriately train, adequately supervise, administer and physically seat the students, and prepare tasks that are suitable for the participating students.
You can’t expect a student to run a client interview on their own straight away, but a Practical Legal Training student who had some experience and was close to being admitted could do it. (Community legal centre coordinator)
In terms of challenges, adequate supervision for students is always something that needs to be monitored. Mostly we do this well, but it’s something you can never lose focus on because good supervision usually equates to a good research output. (University pro bono manager)
As students are usually trying to fit pro bono work in around a study schedule with lectures and exams, the period of time and the frequency of attendance a student can commit to may not match the training and learning requirements of the clinic. This may lead to the student’s work not being of sufficient quality for providing an effective service or to be of benefit to the host/partner organisation.
Occasionally there may be an unsuitable student, however the overwhelming majority contribute to increasing the capacity of the service. (PBRO manager)
18.4 FEATURES OF EFFECTIVE STUDENT PRO BONO
Many of those consulted from CLCs explained that the best way to attract students to volunteer at their centre was by building a positive reputation for the CLC and its volunteer program.
While advertisements at unis and on volunteer websites are also a useful way of recruiting students, we find that the best way to recruit students is through word of mouth. If the current students are having an enjoyable and rewarding time, they will tell friends about the experience. (CLC coordinator)
Targeted ‘recruitment’ was also suggested as a way of identifying suitable student volunteers. This can be achieved by, for example, advertising at universities with specific position descriptions rather than a generic call out for volunteers (eg ‘indigenous volunteer position’ or ‘library volunteer’).
We ensure that our principal solicitor checks and signs off on all the work that is done by students. (CLC coordinator)
At our Centre they have a desk and computer which makes them feel as though they are in our working environment and contributing. (CLC coordinator)
A great deal of planning needs to be undertaken to ensure the success of a student volunteer project or program. Issues that need to be considered include;
- training – preparation of training materials on topics such as induction information, substantive legal issues, casework-related issues etc;
- supervision – allocation of significant time for mentoring and checking the work of students;
- administration – arrangements made for insurance, volunteer conditions; and
- space – ensuring there is enough room in the host organisation’s office for seating students.
Structure the project in a way that ensures that the students are not a drain on the service. (CLC coordinator)
You need to have a good structure set up so a volunteer student has a concrete job to do when they arrive and can see how their role fits into the overall scheme of things. It helps to have a volunteer coordinator who is friendly and interested in the volunteers. (CLC coordinator)
Community legal centres looking for student volunteers can advertise opportunities on the website, Community Legal Centre Volunteers (http://www.clcvolunteers.net.au/), which is a national database of CLCs with information about current volunteering opportunities at a CLC. Those interested in volunteering can find out more about volunteering at CLCs or search the database for CLCs seeking volunteers.2
18.5 CASE STUDIES
- 18.5.1 The Roster and the Manning Street Project (UQ Pro Bono Centre)
- 18.5.2 The Tasmanian Mental Health Tribunal Representation Scheme (Advocacy Tasmania Incorporated)
18.5.1 Case study: The Roster and the Manning Street Project (UQ Pro Bono Centre)
The principal purpose of the UQ Pro Bono Centre, launched on 26 February 2009, is to engage with CLCs and the legal profession for the benefit of the community, law students, and the legal profession, through involvement in the delivery of pro bono legal services in Queensland. Monica Taylor is the Director of the UQ Pro Bono Centre.
Only one of the three main avenues for student pro bono at UQ involves giving students academic credit for the work they do, which is the clinical legal education program run in partnership with QPILCH, Caxton Legal Centre and other community legal organisations. The other two, ‘The Roster’ and the ‘Manning St Project’, do not attract academic credit for the student.
The Roster is an online database of students who are interested in undertaking pro bono work and are matched with activities as they arise. Activities may include writing articles, research for law reform submissions, or volunteering to answer the phones at a CLC.
The Manning St Project3 is a partnership between the UQ Pro Bono Centre and Caxton Legal Centre Inc that provides opportunities to UQ law students to participate in law reform work, action research and other community law activities on behalf of participating CLCs on a pro bono basis. Students who participate in the project have the chance to pursue interests in policy and law reform, public interest research, community legal education, client interviewing and file preparation within the premises of the Caxton Legal Centre at Manning St, South Brisbane, under the supervision of practising lawyers and legal academics.
UQ pays Caxton a substantial fee to rent a space in Caxton’s premises and this space provides a ‘hub’ for the student projects. Many CLCs are in the same area of South Brisbane. Each project can involve small groups of up to four students that work in a four-hour block of time once a week for a semester. Multiple projects run simultaneously. Primary supervision of the project is the responsibility of the organisation that owns the project (either by dropping in to Caxton in person, or by email) but Caxton staff will also check in with the students while they are there for an update on the direction of the research/project. Caxton also provides induction training for all the students (which is mostly concerned with internal administrative issues like occupational health and safety, and risk management). By the end of the semester the students have worked together to pull together a finished product, which might be a chapter in a review paper, or a journal article (for example, students were published in ‘Parity’ (http://chp.org.au/services/parity-magazine/back-issues-and-orders/parity-2010/), a publication of the Council to Homeless Persons).
- Funds from the university allow the CLC to give extra time to supervising and mentoring the students.
- Students undertake projects for the benefit of the CLC sector at large (current partnerships with Caxton, Prisoners Legal Service and Sisters Inside).
- Students undertake policy work that the CLC would not otherwise have the time or resources to pursue.
- The project has yielded great results with students working both as small groups and independently.4
- Students do not receive academic credit, but do have a finished product they can put their name to, and develop a broad range of work experiences and skills.
- Students are provided with quality opportunities to do pro bono work and build a social justice/pro bono culture.
- Adequate supervision for students is always something that needs to be monitored.
Mostly we do this well, but its something you can never lose focus on because good supervision usually equates to a good research output. (Monica Taylor)
Features that make it effective
- The principal solicitor checks and signs off on all the work that is done by students.
- The service is free to discontinue the involvement of any student that is not working out.
- The students are brought together in a ‘hub’ environment.
Technically we don’t need to do this. Students could meet in the law library and just work autonomously/externally. But I think having a central, friendly physical space does help generate a sense of personal responsibility and seriousness about their work. Group work can also have its challenges, but in the time that I’ve been involved I’ve never seen any slackness or issues – quite the opposite; students learn the value of collaboration and do it not because they have to for assessment, but because that is what the real-life research problem requires of them. (Monica Taylor)
- A constant appreciation of the contribution that the students are making.
I find you can never say thank you enough to a student. Constant acknowledgment of their commitment is important as they’re giving up four hours per week with no academic credit! (Monica Taylor)
18.5.2 Case study: The Tasmanian Mental Health Tribunal Representation Scheme (Advocacy Tasmania Incorporated)
Advocacy Tasmania Incorporated (ATI) is an independent, non-government organisation that has provided advocacy services across Tasmania to older people and people with disabilities since 1990. Client groups also include other vulnerable, disadvantaged and stigmatised groups. The organisation works to protect and promote the rights and interests of its clients.
One of ATI’s programs is the Mental Health Tribunal Representation Scheme (MHTRS) which provides free representation to people with a mental illness who have been listed to appear before the Mental Health Tribunal. It provides much needed support for people with mental illness to have their say in matters that affect them.
The MHTRS is only able to be offered due to the hard work and dedication of its Volunteer Representatives, many of whom are undergraduate law students from the University of Tasmania.
Prior to its introduction, people appearing before the Tribunal for review of their involuntary orders were unrepresented at a time when major decisions about their liberty and life choices were being decided. In the 2014 – 2015 financial year, the scheme assisted 1034 people, including representing 188 at a hearing.
How it works
All MHTRS Volunteer Representatives must complete a comprehensive training and induction program which provides an opportunity to hear directly from experienced mental health practitioners, and from the Tribunal. Training is free and conducted across Tasmania annually. It consists of an overview of the MHTRS, information on the major mental illnesses, a presentation from the President of the Tribunal, and workshops designed to equip future Representatives with the more practical skills which will enable them to successfully assist clients and to meet ATI’s volunteer requirements.
Hearings are listed in Hobart, Launceston and North West Tasmania each fortnight and the Tribunal provides MHTRS information with each hearing notice. An ATI staff member then contacts each person listed for hearing, explains the MHTRS, answers questions, and then offers a Representative. ATI then seeks expressions of interest from Representatives and assigns each client with a Representative. The Representative will then meet with the client an hour before the scheduled hearing. (For clients under a Continuing Care Order this meeting takes place at the hospital, and for Community Treatment Order clients, at the Mental Health Tribunal office.)
The Representative provides information and support to the client to self-represent at the Tribunal hearing; this includes reviewing the client’s medical reports and discussing ways that the client might best convey their views and wishes to the Tribunal. In instances where the client wishes more direct representation, the client will brief the Representative so that they can effectively represent the client’s wishes and ensure that they have a voice in regard to proceedings. The Representative then attends the Tribunal hearing with the client. All Representatives are required to complete a brief report detailing any issues arising and the Tribunal’s determination.
To complete the above process, Representatives generally need to be available for up to two hours. Representatives determine their availability and frequency of representations. However, it is important that Representatives are able to retain both knowledge of the process and their skills by undertaking a minimum of four representations annually.
Representatives willingly give their time, skills and experience to assist those who are often marginalised and most vulnerable. Clearly, there is merit and great rewards in volunteering, and this is what drives those who become MHTRS Representatives. However, there are also other study/work-related, social and emotional benefits in becoming a Representative. (Leanne Groombridge, Chief Executive Officer, Advocacy Tasmania)
- Students are provided with opportunities to do pro bono work and build a social justice/pro bono culture, particularly in the context of mental health issues.
ATI conducts a compulsory training component for all Centre for Legal Studies students which means that all students receive information on mental health issues as part of their coursework. Students obtain experience representing clients with significant mental health issues and become aware of their own biases and preconceptions and the need for professional boundaries and conduct.
- Students gain experience and networking opportunities that can help them later with finding employment.
While they do not receive academic credit for their representation work, they do have a finished product, a hearing and final report, they can put their name to. Students gain valuable experience that will enhance employability, particularly for those employers who understand the prevalence of mental health issues within their own workplaces and the wider community. They also attain an ATI MHTRS Statement of Volunteer Service which is a great addition to any resume.
- Students develop a broad range of work skills and confidence, particularly the skills required to successfully support people who are unwell.
They learn new skills as well as consolidating existing skills, including communication and interpersonal skills and gain the experience of appearing before a tribunal and the various associated protocols. The feedback they receive following each representation further increases their skills and confidence and the report they are required to complete following each representation provides an opportunity to enhance their report writing skills.
- Ensuring that students comply with ATI’s volunteer policy and procedural framework.
- Providing the necessary one-on-one support to students who may struggle with behaviours/conditions that they find challenging.
Features that make it effective
- Screening of potential representatives. To be admitted as a MHTRS volunteer, applicants must:
- have a strong commitment to ensuring that the rights of people who are mentally ill are respected;
- demonstrate a high degree of empathy and understanding towards people with a mental illness;
- obtain a satisfactory National Police Check (ATI funded);
- successfully complete the required training;
- be confident to speak, and represent clients’ views, before the Tribunal; and
- have some time spare (minimum annual commitment of eight hours) to help others.
- Effective mentoring of new representatives.
- Comprehensive training and well-defined policy and procedural framework.
- Support and advice from experienced ATI staff to representatives before and after each representation.
- Feedback from the Tribunal after each representation.
- Evaluation processes for each representation which is completed by the Tribunal and provided to each representative.
- Successful partnering with the Tribunal and hospitals
1 National Association of Community Legal Centres, Working Collaboratively: Community Legal Centres and Volunteers (August 2014) p 1, http://www.naclc.org.au/resources/NACLC_VOLUNTEERS_web.pdf.
2 For further career and volunteering opportunities in the social justice sector, see Social Justice Opportunities (http://www.sjopps.net.au/), the first national social justice careers resource with opportunities both within and outside university, and at every stage from being a first year student, through to PLT and graduate positions.
3 The University of Queensland, The Manning St Project (2010) at https://law.uq.edu.au/partnerships/pro-bono/manning-st-project.
4 See publications listed at http://law.uq.ed/au/partnerships/pro-bono/pro-bono-publications.