LawWorks’ Alasdair Stewart on why there’s more to life than training contracts
When I started my law degree, my thoughts were firmly focused on how it would aid a career in business. By the end of the course, I was moving to London to work for a charity.
I was very fortunate to attend the University of Strathclyde where they run a very successful pro bono law clinic. Unlike most other law clinics, emphasis is placed on student ownership of both the clinic’s direction and the cases that are worked on.
As an inexperienced second year student who’d never studied employment law, I was suddenly faced with explaining to a partner at an international law firm why my client wasn’t going to accept their offer to settle an unfair dismissal claim. To say this focuses the mind would be putting it mildly; they say teaching is the best way to learn something, but I’d argue that having to deal with a law firm partner on the end of a telephone is just as effective. To this day, I still feel like I know more about employment law than any other area I studied, purely from that one pro bono case (which eventually settled, making my client very happy).
Seeing the difference I was able to make to that client, and the other 19 or so clients who followed, I quickly gained an appreciation of the issues that can very easily balloon into much larger problems with serious consequences. Typical examples were housing associations refusing to repair their own mistakes, landlords retaining deposits, dodgy retailers and employers just being unreasonable.
As my passion grew, my involvement with the law clinic quickly escalated into providing a full case management system so that cases could be properly tracked, and then on to two seniors roles on the student committee where I took responsibility for, amongst other things, training new students and hosting fundraising events. Fully convinced of the academic and social benefits of pro bono work, I spent much of my last year meeting individuals from other universities and sharing Strathclyde’s experiences to promote the growth of pro bono projects elsewhere in the UK and Europe.
Reaching the end of my degree in a recession was far from ideal, however my extra-curricular experiences led me to apply for a job with one of the national pro bono charities; a job I was appointed to and have enjoyed ever since I started in July. For me it demonstrates that university is not all about the studying.
Alasdair Stewart won the ‘best contribution by an individual’ award at the 2010 pro bono legal awards, and is currently project manager at pro bono charity LawWorks.