Charity work and volunteering are not often considered synonymous with the legal profession, but it is this belief that is dispelled by pro bono. Deriving from the Latin and meaning ‘for the good’, it provides those who are otherwise unable to afford it with access to legal services. The importance of this cannot be understated without mentioning the rule of law. One of the key tenets of the rule of law is access to courts and without having equally accessible advocacy, it is an incredibly hard thing to achieve by itself. The point of our society is to address any deficiencies in the law and justice system, while helping people in our local community – as well as internationally – with our projects, Amicus and Lawyers Without Borders. Amicus deals with raising awareness for the death penalty, while Lawyers Without Borders focuses on aid, specifically in a human rights perspective, in much of the developing world.
Our society was founded in 2009 and brought together many different projects and many different parent organisations under one umbrella society. Ever since then we have been expanding the society by the amount of projects we offer. We are pleased to announce that we are now offering two new projects this year, Families in Care and Tenants’ Rights. Families in Care provides support, advice, guidance and practical help for people involved in care or adoption proceedings. Tenants’ Rights is responsible for providing advice to livers out who have questions or issues regarding their leases. Alongside these two projects we have Innocence, IPSEA, StreetLaw, Schools Outreach, Freedom from Torture, Amicus and Lawyers Without Borders. These projects offer everything from working on a real criminal case of a convicted person claiming innocence to offering free and independent advice to parents of children with special educational needs. Alongside our growth in number of projects, we have also expanded in terms of membership by opening up many of our projects to non-law students. This is consistent with the belief that academic discipline does not matter as much in an applicant as having an interest in how the law affects people and having a genuine need to help others.
Similarly, we have seen other parts of the society expanding in turn. Our blog has been incredibly successful, gaining over 50,000 hits and being featured in many different blogs and websites. Contributions from members on various social and legal issues are always welcome and it is an interesting experience to be able to both educate and be educated by fellow students on developments in the world. We are also creating a social committee to assist the Social Secretary in creating events such as our end of year ball. We have also enlarged the executive committee by introducing two new positions: Vice-President and Careers Officer. The latter position is in recognition of our new focus on career-oriented events. For example, the firm CMS Cameron McKenna will be hosting an advocacy workshop for members of the society. We are planning on having more of these types of events, which involve honing in on communication and presentation skills or shadowing pro bono lawyers at work.
Not only do these events help mold members into successful lawyers, they ensure that our members are able to help others who are less fortunate, in the context of pro bono work, both while at Durham University and after becoming either barristers or solicitors.
Another important function of the society is to host speakers and introduce the student body to various perspectives and experiences. Last year we were happy to host both Baroness Hale and Eva Clarke. Baroness Hale, our honorary life president, spoke about her experience on the Supreme Court and her unique perspective as being the most senior female judge in the history of the UK. Eva Clark, in a talk hosted in conjunction with the Holocaust Educational Trust, spoke about her family’s experience during the Holocaust. The society is expecting to host more speakers this academic year and explore new topics and themes.
I am grateful to have been involved with the society to such an extent, serving many different roles such as Associate Editor and Media Relations Officer. This has been the university activity I have been most involved in and one of the most defining features of my time at university and in life. It has complimented my law degree by showing me the extent the law can affect everyday individuals in their lives. It is incredibly rewarding to not only being able to apply what I have learned to real life situations, but to make a positive difference for people struggling with the law. It is my hope that other students can have a similar experience to mine.