Feature

Why I turned down a hot summer in Ibiza to work at a legal support charity

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I had the chance to go away for the summer — here are five reasons why I’m glad I didn’t

Ibiza2

Though it would have been a lot easier to visit everyone’s favourite Balearic island, I chose to complete a four-week stint at legal charity, the Personal Support Unit (PSU), which provides practical and emotional support to those who do not have legal representation. Here are my top five take-aways about why volunteering at the PSU was the right choice:

1. Experience, experience, experience

People always go on about “hands-on” and “real-life” experiences but it really makes a difference not only to your CV, not only to how you come across at interview, but also to how you study. The PSU is the best place to get this experience because you are dealing directly with real clients who have very real problems. In my first week at the PSU I was immediately immersed in anything from witness statements to grounds of appeal.

I was really surprised about how fast-paced the working environment there is. Clients would drop in unannounced with any number of issues ranging from housing or family disputes to relatively small money claims. The level of exposure was fantastic.

2. Networking

The PSU is the perfect place to network with legal professionals. Prepare to meet people from all areas ranging from barristers and solicitors to retired judges. I met a number of leading barristers from top-notch chambers, some of which I hope to apply to for a mini-pupillage some time in the future. Volunteering at PSU is a golden opportunity for law students — and you have to make the most of it whilst you are there.

3. Opening your eyes

Working at the PSU has allowed me to witness first hand how government cuts to criminal legal aid have impacted on the general public and has made me realise not only are there so many vulnerable people left without any legal representation but also how much they need legal support charities like the PSU.

As just one example: the family courts have been left in chaos with parents desperately trying to understand complicated legal procedures regarding contact arrangements.

I feel much more knowledgeable about these issues and have a whole new perspective. It is one thing to read about something in the papers, it’s another to see the result of how these cuts are tragically affecting people’s lives.

4. Emotional intelligence

Part of the role of the PSU is to provide emotional support to individuals who are in desperate need of it. Working at the PSU was, at times, very similar to being a counsellor. Most of the clients would arrive in an emotional state, needing someone to help them gather their thoughts and simply listen to them. You quickly have to learn how to respond to this: a smile, a nod, occasionally adding in a few “ahhs” and “mms’” to show that you are, indeed, listening. My PSU experience led me to developing a newly-found empathy and provided me with a heavy dose of emotional intelligence.

5. Feelgood factor

Last but definitely not least is the feel-good factor about doing pro bono work. At the end of each day you may be tired but you really do feel rewarded. I saw first hand how much you can do for people with patience and a level-headed approach. Most of the clients I dealt with had never been to court before, many were unaware of basic court etiquette. The most commonly-asked questions were: “how do I address the judge”, “how do I dress?” and “what is a skeleton argument?” A few words from you makes all the difference to them.

PSU clients were also overwhelmingly grateful to you for supporting them. With more than one client wishing me a “God bless you” or something similar, I often left the office with a spring in my step, feeling that I had helped someone out there.

The PSU saw an incredible 900% rise in clients helped last year. But with the organisation expanding across the country there are increasing opportunities for law students to volunteer. You can find out more about your local PSU here.

Christianah Babajide is an LLB student at City University.

16 Comments

Anonymous

Author joined the PSU to pad out their CV.

End of story.

(26)(4)

Anonymous

Agreed. Author joined the PSU to pad out their CV and went on to write about it for LC to truly make the most of it.

Patheric indeed.

(19)(4)

Good Do-er

Don’t you mean pathetic*

(1)(2)

Kanye West

Anonymous at 1.02pm Ima let you finish but this is the best LC article of all time
*drops mic*

(1)(3)

Captain Sarcasm

Duh.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Empathy is overrated. Barristers do much better when they treat their clients with utter contempt.

(9)(2)

Anonymous

Couldn’t you have done both? Surely your university holiday was longer than 4 weeks?

(5)(1)

Anonymous

“Go away for the summer” lol can’t you read the Author was clearly talking about a holiday for 3 minths

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Real answer: because you’re a fool.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

Is she saying that she could have blagged 3 months in Ibiza?

Still at least 2 months of the summer vac to go darlin…

(2)(0)

unpopular opinion puffin

Am I on crack? PSU, worthy as it is, cannot be legitimately described as “pro bono” work save in the sense that it’s for free.

Trust me, absent practical experience in law firm or chambers, as an LLB student your knowledge of law in practice is precisely bugger all – when you do your BPTC / LPC your knowledge gets better – but it’s only when you’ve been torn a new one by a judge when you’ve made an application that is, strictly speaking, correct in law but, in practice, so woefully out of proportion that you get some semblance of how this sh*t works in real life. PSU? FFS more like.

(5)(2)

Anonymous

If a student needs this article to convince them to spend time interning rather than having a long holiday, then God help them.

(4)(0)

Good Do-er

People having to go court themselves because justice has now become a luxury. Thank God for organisations like the PSU, CAB,FRU & the Bar ProBono Unit..

(3)(1)

Top cat

Hear hear

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I think this is a great article 😘

(4)(1)

Anonymous

Indeed

(1)(0)

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