Report by Charlotte Westby, Second Year Law Student, University of Birmingham
During November’s National Pro Bono Week, Shoosmiths Birmingham office hosted the Birmingham Student Pro Bono Conference 2016, which was attended by over 70 students from university law schools across the city.
The conference began with a welcome speech from the organisers, Lucy Burrows of BPP Law School and Linden Thomas from Birmingham Law School. Lucy and Linden set the scene for the afternoon’s discussions, which were to explore the challenges and opportunities presented by pro bono from the point of view of many different stakeholders, including clients, students, commercial law firms and legal aid lawyers.
Joe Egan, Vice President of The Law Society, started proceedings, by delivering an overview of pro bono services from a national perspective. Joe stressed the opportunities that pro bono offers not only to those who receive it, but also to those who deliver it. However, Joe’s comments were measured and reminded delegates of the importance of the rule of law and vital role of a well-funded legal aid system.
Joe was followed by Charlotte Rook of the Birmingham Personal Support Unit, who outlined the opportunities that pro bono volunteers have offered to provide assistance to the growing number of litigants in person seeking to navigate their way through the Court system. Charlotte also provided a stark insight into the challenges of meeting such huge demand with limited resources.
Next we heard from students Christopher Walker and Sacha Hibbett from the University of Birmingham about the challenges and opportunities they have faced as student pro bono volunteers. Time management was a key challenge, whilst developing legal practice skills and a chance to ‘give something back’ were identified as key opportunities.
Nicola Ellen from Shoosmiths then gave an insightful and inspiring talk on the potential for commercial law firms to turn pro bono challenges into pro bono opportunities, which led perfectly into an interactive session in which students were asked to identify pro bono challenges and opportunities for key stakeholders: lawyers; clients; and students.
The conference culminated in a panel debate with representatives from Shoosmiths LLP, No5 Chambers, Birmingham Community Law Centre, LawWorks and the University of Birmingham.
“The student perspectives on pro bono given in the conference were incredibly helpful, and particularly relevant to me at this time. Having gone into the conference with some doubts overhanging my decision to become so involved in pro bono, I left feeling excited about the year to come. The students confirmed that every minute set aside to carry out some pro bono work is reciprocated tenfold in fulfilment and pride… The afternoon truly highlighted the far reaching benefits of pro bono work, and it is a group I am now even prouder to be a part of.”