Five Key Skills Barristers Can Gain From Pro-bono Work

by Five Fantastic Lawyers™ on April 29, 2023

Do you aspire to have a career at the Bar? If so, have you done any free legal advice pro bono work? 

All prospective barristers should dedicate time to pro bono work: professional legal work that is voluntary and helps those in need of legal assistance – often in your local community. 

Not only does pro bono work help aspiring barristers to accelerate the development of their personal and professional skills, but having such experience on your CV can sometimes give you an edge over your peers when it comes to showcasing the skills you have and extracurricular activities that you have taken part in. 

With this in mind, the experts at BPP University Law School have listed below 5 key skills that you can gain from undertaking pro bono work which may help you to stand out in pupillage applications. 

1.  Client interaction skills

There is no better way to get closer to practice than to work directly with real clients, tackling real legal issues.  

Volunteering with University Legal Advice Clinics gives you the opportunity to support individuals struggling with legal issues and will also help you to develop a range of client interaction skills. 

As a student volunteer, you will understand how to build rapport with your client, so you can extract relevant information quickly to identify the key issues in the case.  You will learn how to manage clients with patience and professionalism, while also demonstrating your ability to handle a matter effectively and confidently, regarding the sensitivities of the client’s circumstances. In essence, you will learn to deliver a service of the highest professional standard for your clients.

2. Experience in other areas of expertise

Think you know what area of law you want to practice in?  It is not uncommon for students to become focused on one practice area without taking the opportunity to experience other areas of law. Pro bono work is the perfect way to explore different specialisms and to help you to confirm, or completely change your mind, about your interest in a particular area of expertise.  

You can also broaden your experience by looking to external partnerships.  Many pro bono schemes often involve a collaboration with law firms or charities, meaning you can grow your professional network and gain insight from practitioners alongside your volunteering experience. 

3. Practical application of legal knowledge and skills 

Pro bono work takes law out of the textbook.  The legal issues that you deal with will not be presented in a neatly wrapped problem question.  Frequently, a client may not even be able to explain what the legal issue is. Therein lies the challenge of pro bono work for a law student, but also the opportunity to demonstrate a range of skills.  

Pro bono work will undoubtedly put your legal research skills to the test. However, legal knowledge is not enough. Effective legal advice demands an ability to apply the law, not only to a ‘real world’ issue but also in line with a client’s aims and objectives.  

As a pro bono volunteer, you will develop the skills to support a client to understand their issue better. Not only that, but you will also be able to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the social, economic, or environmental factors influencing a client’s position, which could also impact the advice that you provide.

4. Drafting legal advice

Drafting a good piece of written advice takes practice.  Some law students take a while to make the shift from essay writing to professional written advice.  

For pro bono volunteers, the transition is certainly quicker.  This can be attributed to a number of factors, including the dedicated training you receive in project orientation, your exposure to the insight of legal professionals with years of practice experience, as well as your own experience of working with and supporting clients.  

Knowing the law and conveying the law in a way that a client can understand are two very different skills.  While both are important for a career in law, it is the latter that will set you apart as an effective lawyer. 

5. Building upon advocacy skills 

Pro bono work offers a variety of ways for you to develop your confidence ‘on your feet’ and build your advocacy skills, but advocacy skills doesn’t need to be all about Court work. 

One of BPP University Law School‘s most far-reaching pro bono projects offers a different way to develop and showcase your confidence in public speaking.  Streetlaw is a public legal education project run in many universities.  The project enables student volunteers to deliver legal workshops to schools, community groups and prisons across the country.  Streetlaw requires volunteers to explain the law to diverse audiences that can vary in age and in understanding.  Effective communication, an ability to engage an audience, confidence in public speaking and thinking on your feet are all skills that volunteers develop through this type of pro bono work – skills which also happen to be the basics for a successful career at the Bar.

[Editor’s note – see also our guide to legal recruitment companies and blog post on the world’s richest lawyers and lawyer salaries]

Five Fantastic Lawyers™
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