How pro bono can help you land a Biglaw training contract and develop as a solicitor

Norton Rose Fulbright associate Jonathan Iyer highlights the multiple benefits of pro bono work

J-iyer

As training contract application season commences, Legal Cheek Careers caught up with Norton Rose Fulbright newly qualified associate Jonathan Iyer. He told us about his pro bono work following a recent appearance in a graduate recruitment video for the firm’s Facebook page which contains some essential insights for students.

Iyer got into pro bono as a first year law student at King’s College London, and the experience he has gained has seen him all the way through vac schemes to qualification as a solicitor in April.

Ahead of his firm’s TC application deadline on 15 July, Iyer explains how the skills he has learnt along the way helped him to gain a coveted position at Norton Rose Fulbright.

Legal Cheek Careers: You recently worked on a pro bono basis to help a client in social housing reclaim their deposit from a landlord — while doing your corporate seat. How did you fit everything in?

Jonathan Iyer: “It was a busy time, but by working on the pro bono case first thing in the morning when I came in I found that I had the time to do it.

“The case itself was pretty shocking, involving a client who lived with their child in social housing in South London. Some of the other tenants had major addiction problems and the client was forced to leave the property partly because of serious threats of violence made against them, with these threats so considerable that they had to be accompanied by a police escort when they went to collect their belongings.

“The landlord refused to return the client’s deposit on the basis that the client had broken the tenancy agreement early. However, we noticed that the landlord had failed to pay the deposit into a government backed deposit protection scheme — as required by law. This made our case fairly straightforward, with the main challenge being to get the somewhat elusive corporate landlord to pay up. This took a number of strongly worded letters, which I drafted on behalf of the law centre.”

How has doing pro bono work helped develop your professional skills as a trainee and now a solicitor?

Iyer: “Putting into practice some of the principles that I learnt during my seat in dispute resolution was, on a personal level, one of the highlights of the landlord-tenant pro bono case. It meant I had the core knowledge needed in order to handle the matter.

“The letters I drafted were fairly similar in tone and style to those I drafted when acting for corporate clients in a commercial litigation and class action context during my international secondment to our Sydney office. The main objectives of the case were also essentially the same: to get the best result for the client through persuasive argument, although as mentioned, we had a straight forward claim under the housing legislation.

“While seeking to do that, you are very conscious that this is not some abstract legal problem that you have been handed, but an actual problem in the real world which requires you to be very practical. Pro bono tends to require more social awareness than commercial awareness, but the fundamental idea of considering the wider context within which you are operating applies in the same way.”

How did doing pro bono work at uni help with vac scheme and training contract applications?

Iyer: “It is definitely something I mentioned — as it helped with my research skills, organisational skills and people skills. In that sense, it’s important to get involved in pro bono at an early stage of your course so by the time you start making vac scheme applications in your second year you have plenty to talk about.

“I was involved with two different types of pro bono work at King’s. One was assisting members of the student community on university related issues. The other involved giving presentations in London schools to children on interesting legal topics in the news. We also gave generic presentations to the students such as whether to go to law school and the different careers available in law.

“These types of experiences should give students plenty of material to put on application forms and discuss at interviews for training contracts as you learn a lot from them.

“Indeed, some of the pro bono activities that I did as a law student at King’s still also come in handy professionally — in particular my experiences of public speaking. Although the school presentations were to groups of 15 or 16 year-olds, the experience I gained from them has been invaluable for the workplace where you are expected from an early stage to showcase soft skills such as giving presentations and networking with clients.”

What other benefits has your involvement in pro bono work brought about?

Iyer: “Pro bono cuts across all levels of lawyers at the firm, so it’s a great way to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise have had contact with. For example, during the deposit case I worked alongside a senior Norton Rose Fulbright disputes partner who checked in at regular intervals to see how the case was progressing.

“The firm values wider commitment and my involvement with pro bono has really helped with my personal development. The main reason to advise on a pro bono basis is that it is very rewarding to help people in need and who often have no other means of obtaining legal advice and representation.”

Read more about pro bono at Norton Rose Fulbright here. The firm’s training contract application deadline is on Friday 15 July.

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