Becoming a Free Representation Unit Volunteer
Becoming a Free Representation Unit Volunteer
What is the Free Representation Unit?
The Free Representation Unit (FRU) is a charity that provides representation in Social Security and Employment Tribunals to people who cannot afford the costs of a solicitor, or whom do not qualify for legal aid. To provide this service, FRU train volunteer law students and legal professionals in the early stages of their career so that they can become FRU volunteers and represent people either in the Social Security Tribunal or the Employment Tribunal.
The charity is based in London, and here at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), we are privileged to be the only university/office outside London that offer the service that FRU provides to Nottingham Law School (NLS) students. FRU works closely with the NLS Legal Advice Centre (LAC) to allow NLS students the opportunity to represent people in Tribunal and give students the chance to develop their professional and personal skills. When undertaking the case work, students will do it all in the LAC i.e. the client meeting, the drafting of submissions and meeting with a FRU supervisor.
What work is involved with being a FRU volunteer?
First of all, you will have your very own case! This does mean that you will get to develop professional and personal skills in a number of ways by:
• Reviewing the client’s bundle and understanding the issues within that bundle;
• Setting out questions to ask the client when you meet with them;
• Organising and meeting the client at the LAC;
• Drafting letters and submissions for court and making decisions as to what plead for your client;
• Contacting the client to ensure they know what is going on and be there to answer any questions they may have;
• Client file management;
• Legal research; and
• Attending the hearing and representing your client at the Tribunal.
What if I have any questions/problems with anything on my case?
You will always have the support from the Legal Advice Centre staff who specialise in the area. Faye Deverell, the Senior Supervising Solicitor at the Legal Advice Centre specialises in Social Security cases and will be there to support you all the way, meet with you to see how the case is going and discuss/guide you through submissions if you are stuck. Mathew Game specialises in Employment law and will be the go to staff member if you are doing FRU Employment. I have worked with both Faye and Mat, who have always been there if you need support with something or have any questions. You are never alone volunteering at the Legal Advice Centre, there will also be other students in the Legal Advice Centre or staff members available to answer any questions you have.
(Tip: No such question is a daft question, so ask if you’re not sure about something!)
How do I become a FRU volunteer as a NLS student?
There are four key steps:
1) Make sure you attend a FRU training day. The Legal Advice Centre hosts a training day in both Employment and Social Security; these normally take place at NLS on a Friday in October. They will post the dates of the training days on NOW from mid-September to mid-October. The training day lasts the entire day and you will be trained by a representative from FRU and a staff member from the Legal Advice Centre on the law and applying that law into set skills to help you with the case. Please note that FRU Social Security is available for any NLS student in their final term of the second year and FRU Employment is only available once you have reached the final term in your third year. All graduate students can undertake FRU.
2) After the training day, FRU will set you a test to complete to make sure you have understood the training day and can use what you learned to apply it to the test. FRU give you the weekend to complete it. (Tip: Complete the test as soon as you can after the training day as the information will still be fresh in your mind. Also, make sure you spend enough time on your answer!)
3) When you receive the result, if you pass, you will need to undertake an office induction at the Legal Advice Centre. This is to ensure you get used to the way that files are stored, letters are sent and the process of taking a FRU case on.
4) Take on your first FRU case! And then take on even more!
My FRU volunteer experience
I undertook the FRU Social Security training day and test in October 2017 and passed at the end of the year. I took my first case on in January 2018, and 15 cases later, I am still learning and enjoying the work I am doing!
From doing the numerous skills listed above, I developed not only professionally but personally. At the start of the academic year, I had little confidence in myself. I found it difficult to speak to someone I knew and the idea of representing clients at their appeal hearing in the Social Security Tribunal honestly scared me. However, with the support and guidance of the Centre’s Senior Supervising Solicitor Faye Deverell, I would not be here today writing this blog!
My confidence has grown massively over the past few months and this is mainly down to the work I do as a FRU volunteer and representing my clients at their social security appeal hearings. To have the opportunity to get your own casework, meet with clients, draft submissions for a hearing and then represent a client in front of a judge is an extremely rare opportunity to get as a university law student. I recommend to any NLS student to become a FRU volunteer; the experience you get is invaluable as a student. It makes you stand out on your CV, it is certainly a talking point at interviews for vacation schemes and training contracts!
I have developed my organisational skills by filing, meeting time requirements and prioritising workloads when I have had several cases on the go. I have also developed my client care skills from meeting with clients, whom have ranged from having physical difficulties and mental health difficulties, to being upset and angry as to what has happened to them. It has made me a lot more aware of how I deal with different situations and different types of clients, another skill I will take into the future.
Overall, I cannot recommend being a FRU volunteer enough and the invaluable skills you develop professionally and personally. But, the best part about being a volunteer is the gratefulness you get from your clients. For clients, to have somebody there with them explaining the process, answering questions, making oral submissions to the judge on their behalf and just being there for support makes a huge difference and is invaluable to them.
It has been a privilege to be a FRU volunteer this year and I look forward to carrying this experience on when I go back into my final year as a NLS student in September 2018.
Legal Assistant – NLS Legal Advice Centre (2017-18)
About the author
NTU Law Sandwich student currently on placement at the NLS Legal Advice Centre.