Pro Bono Week 2023: 'My Experience with Pro Bono'
Updated: Nov 15
Meg McBlain is a Trainee Solicitor and Pro Bono and Sponsorship Officer in the JLD. Meg shares her experience working pro-bono with Mencap WISE Cymru:
Pro bono work is the provision of free legal services to help provide access to justice for those who may not have the financial means. It allows individuals in the legal profession to give back to society where we are in the fortunate position to do so. From a personal perspective, I also strongly believe that my involvement with pro bono work at an early stage of my legal career has been instrumental in both securing my Training Contract and succeeding in my role as a Trainee Solicitor. This article explores both sides - the benefits to society as a whole and my individual appreciation for the doors that pro bono has opened for me.
Mencap is a UK charity which supports those with learning disabilities in all aspects of their life, including any legal challenges they may encounter. During my undergraduate studies at Cardiff University, I took part in the Mencap Wise Cymru pro bono project alongside a group of fellow students, led by Professor Jason Tucker. It has been recognised as an award-winning pro bono partnership and is being revitalised in 2023/24 to ensure that the advice provided remains current. The central focus of this project was to research and produce legal toolkits which explain complex areas of law without using confusing legal jargon so that they can be read, understood and applied by non-legal persons.
Professor Jason Tucker, who was responsible for leading the project during its span of 2014 - 2020, explains the far-reaching benefit of these legal toolkits - “Mencap Cymru’s
case workers use the toolkits when supporting families to secure their legal entitlements, and the toolkits are also available as public access documents via Mencap Cymru’s website”.
The legal toolkit which my team was responsible for producing was on the law surrounding
Disability Benefits. This covered a broad spectrum of areas such as the process of applying for Personal Independence Payment, Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance, as well as guidance on appealing a decision to the Tribunal. It even included step-by step instructions on filing out court forms and worked examples, which help make a somewhat daunting prospect that little bit easier. This toolkit can be accessed here:
Other examples of toolkits which Cardiff University students have produced throughout the years whilst engaged in pro bono include advice on housing law, how to gain access to education as well as a toolkit focused on supporting parents with a learning disability through the child protection system. I think it is abundantly clear that the toolkits help those in society who may not otherwise have access to legal representation and ultimately, they enable those with learning disabilities to feel supported during what can be a very stressful time in anybody’s life.
Whilst it goes without saying that the true benefit of pro bono is to society at large, I also derived a great deal from my early involvement with pro bono during my studies. These personal benefits are twofold - both during my applications for a Training Contract and now as a Trainee Solicitor at Blake Morgan LLP. During my applications and in interviews to secure a Training Contract, I was able to refer to the work I had undertaken with Mencap and it allowed me to show a genuine interest in the legal profession. As someone who didn’t have any prior legal work experience such as a paralegal role, I always feared I would be turned away for lack of experience. This couldn’t be further from the truth, interviewers were genuinely interested in the pro bono work I had undertaken and it also formed many a response to the typical interview questions such as tell us about a time you worked in a
team or when you had to overcome a challenge.
My involvement in pro bono also cemented for me that I wanted to pursue a career in law. I
found it truly rewarding to see that my work was publicly accessible online and being used to benefit people in the real world. Whilst simply studying the law, it can be difficult to comprehend its application in day-to-day life, and this is where pro bono allowed me to gain a proper appreciation of the career I was pursuing. Not only did it help me secure my Training Contract, but it allowed me to develop a wealth of transferable skills that I have since been able to put into practice in my role as a Trainee Solicitor. Typical trainee tasks include conducting legal research into an unfamiliar area of law and providing written advice to a client in a way that they will be able to understand - both of which I had
experience of during my time working on the Mencap Wise Cymru project.
I had little to no prior knowledge of disability law nor the process of applying for disability
living benefits before I undertook the necessary research for the toolkit. I was therefore very much starting from a blank slate, just like a Trainee Solicitor does every 6 months when they rotate to a new seat in a new area of law. My research skills as a result had very much been honed, and I further learnt to produce my findings in plain English and in a clear and concise manner that could be easily understood. This is a skill that has most definitely come in handy since beginning my Training Contract given the need to present information to clients who don’t necessarily possess a legal background.
I think the above clearly illustrates why I value my pro bono experience so highly in not only
helping me become a Trainee Solicitor and during my Training Contract, but also in terms of the bigger picture and why I wanted to become a Solicitor in the first place. However, you don’t just have to take my word for it, Professor Jason Tucker also echoes the importance of involvement with pro bono schemes - “From a student perspective, I think the main benefit of any pro bono / clinical legal education activity is that it gives students an opportunity to experience law in the real world, and apply their learning to practical situations. This enables them to enhance their professional practice and wider employability skills, whilst also supporting access to justice within the local community”.
I encourage everyone, no matter what stage of their legal career, to get involved with pro bono and you might just surprise yourself with the benefits you feel within!
The Cardiff and Southeast Wales JLD are always open to consider collaboration and/or fundraising events. To get involved, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.