Educating Our Students By Serving The Community

Month: July 2020

My experience as a volunteer with Support Through Court

I’m Caterina and I am completing my LLB in Politics, Philosophy and Law at KCL. I am half Italian and half Russian and have been interested in the charity and pro bono sector for a while now. Next year I will be studying an MSc in International Social and Public Policy, focussing on NGO activity.

I got involved with the legal clinic at King’s as a Student Adviser and was immediately struck by how many other extracurricular activities and projects were on offer. Support Through Court seemed a great opportunity to get a better understanding of the legal system in practice. I enjoyed volunteering more than I anticipated and I found it a very well-rounded experience. I learned a lot about court procedure and structure and how best to tactfully help a stranger struggling emotionally.

Some of the clients knew what their main argument was going to be in court but struggled to frame the argument in a skeleton argument or in a professional format. In terms of legal content volunteering at the Royal Courts of Justice especially exposed me to a wide variety of practice areas.

On one occasion, I remember helping five clients in one day with disputes ranging from money claims, to a probate case with jurisdictional issues in France, a disability discrimination in the workplace claim, and a contractual misrepresentation. In a single day as a volunteer, there is simply no limit to the variety of areas of law that you might be enriched in, some of which you might not have even studied during your LLB!

Overall, the role is to make the experience of preparing for and being in court less traumatic and negative. A lot of clients were overwhelmed by the whole process of going to court and found themselves in need of more basic practical help, for instance in navigating the building and the different offices, finding the right form and making sure everything is filled out correctly and sent to the right place. Walking with them rather than having a dismissive attitude is something they appreciated.

Given the stress of the situation for the client, as a volunteer you can contribute a lot even just by making them a cup of tea and letting them talk for a while about their story, struggles and sense of unfairness – something I felt came up in most of these cases.

We also brought comfort by making the tasks look easier and explaining with more positive language what we can do to help them complete their tasks. This often relieved the anxiety clients felt about the procedural aspect. In my experience, even praising them for how far they’ve come, how wellorganised their bundle and documents are, went a long way when a client was tired of feeling unheard. For the same reason, it was extremely important to always be listening actively, taking notes, with their permission, if the story seemed complex, to give them a sense of interest and validation they might not have felt in court.

Support Through Court offices have had to close their doors during the coronavirus pandemic and all face-to-face support has been suspended for the time being. While the world seems to have stopped for some, time certainly has not stopped running for those seeking justice and those who need charities to facilitate their access to it. Just like the King’s Legal Clinic was immediately trying to move their work online, so was Support Through Court, who had recently established a phone helpline to try and help clients remotely.

Something I did not expect to find as a student volunteer but was a very core similarity among the clients was the aversion towards technology. A lot of the Support Through Court
clients are elderly people, who might have disabilities or resource issues which can make any task a lot harder than it might otherwise be.

There are a series of issues which the closure of the office and remote contact may have caused the clients:

When the problem, or rather, the situation they need the most help with is primarily emotional support, my experience taught me it would be difficult for clients to pick up the phone. Some take time and a couple minutes silence or reassurance on the volunteer’s part to even start talking, and that is very difficult over the phone.

Some clients might have children or live in a busy household where calling privately might not even be a practical option. 

I can envisage the clients that are struggling the most right now would be those that simply walk into the office and ask a volunteer to help them understand a document they have been sent – be it a court order or a skeleton argument from the other side. 

All of the above could be compounded by not understanding English well, if English is not their first language.


What a lot of clients want and need is a frank honest discussion with a person who, within limits, understands their story and what the next steps for them are, in what could be a very important and difficult time for them. While the phoneline volunteers I’m sure are doing an excellent job, there are definitely some clients who need face-to-face support.

I am very grateful to the clinic for connecting me with Support Through Court as I found volunteering a formative experience and I really respect the work the charity does having been given the opportunity to understand it better.

On a personal level, this was a good reminder that emotional intelligence is an asset in the legal world and that it is possible to improve on rapport-building skills through practice. I have a newfound appreciation for listening actively and taking tasks a bit slower to really understand when helping someone.   

Written by:

Caterina Cedolini, Politics Philosophy and Law LLB

 

For more information on Support Through Court please visit: https://www.supportthroughcourt.org/ 

My Experience as a Student Administrator for King’s Legal Clinic

I’ve just completed my first year as an undergraduate on the LLB program at King’s College London. On arrival during my orientation week, I was met with a plethora of different opportunities the university had to offer and was ultimately sold after listening to a presentation a student working with the Legal Clinic delivered.

As a fresh Law student studying abroad, it is axiomatic I came with the intention of wanting to participate in all of the opportunities possible and this meant signing up to almost anything which was of interest to me (pro tip: sign up for everything before the uni work starts piling up!).

The Legal Clinic provides several different volunteer roles which include being a student adviser, student administrator, or both. First-years are likely to have less experience with substantive Law at the beginning and  as a result we are only able to apply for the role as a student administrator.

As a summary, the role includes working with guidance from qualified, professional lawyers to take a note of client enquiries, ensuring all of their information is suitable for the clinic to take on the case, and following up with clients wherever necessary.    Admittedly, after being accepted to take on the role, I was unquestionably excited to start but at the same time a little anxious as I had never actually dealt with real-life clients before.

In this case, even though each student received training prior to beginning the position, I felt it was only once I started the practice itself I was able to develop confidence in communicating with clients.    As a whole, working for a clinic which provides free legal service to almost everyone from the general public meant that I was faced with situations where I had to communicate with people from different backgrounds to my own.

Arguably one of the most difficult scenarios I was in was when I was following up with a client in order to draw some missing information from him. Whilst speaking to him, I noticed this case was of sensitive and personal value to him and I had to be wary not to push him too strongly into revealing facts about his case which he perhaps didn’t want to disclose. Being in this situation, in particular, was a big learning experience for me because it was the first time that I had to alter the ‘script’ (which includes a guideline of the questions to ask all clients) in a sense and tailor it to his particular scenario instead.

Having dealt with that not only boosted my confidence within the role at the clinic but also pushed me to enhance my quick-thinking and communicative skills which I believe are essential towards the study of Law. The differing natures of each case we deal with every time we walk into the clinic, whether it be a family, housing, or general inquiry, means that we must adapt to the various circumstances in order to properly succeed in the role.

By studying Law for the first time simultaneously, I was undeniably able to gain an understanding of the difference between Law in theory and in practice as well as put together the knowledge that I had just learnt into better understanding the cases I was dealing with.

Overall, for anyone who’s looking to gain exposure to the legal sector, this role is perfect in doing so.

Written by Pasha Mirpuri (upcoming LLB Law Year 2)

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