My placement year at the NLS Legal Advice Centre
My placement year at the NLS Legal Advice Centre
Written by Lauren Kilbride, placement student at the Legal Advice Centre.
After dozens of cases, appearances as a legal representative in the Social Security Tribunal and one contract extension, my placement year at the NLS Legal Advice Centre (‘the Centre’) has come to an end.
When I started my placement year last September 2017, I never thought that 50 weeks working as a Legal Assistant would fly by, how wrong I was. Going back to when I first started I didn’t exactly know what to expect from undertaking a placement year or what work was in store for me. Today, reflecting on the past year, I feel so grateful for the opportunities that I have experienced and the responsibilities I have held whilst on my placement year. These have helped my skill set personally and professionally in so many ways.
In the first months of my placement, I carried out administrative work such as setting up files, ringing clients and taking attendance notes of client meetings. Starting my placement this way really helped me grasp how the Centre worked, the styles of the solicitors and the procedures set so I was ready for when I started to take on my own cases.
Every month my caseload increased and my workload varied. As I started to have my own cases under the supervision of a solicitor, I was given the responsibility of managing the Student Pro Bono Committee, presenting lectures to current students and welcoming prospective students to the Centre on University open days.
Not one day at the Centre was the same for me, as I was lucky to have my own cases in several areas of law including: Family, Employment, Commercial, Intellectual Property, Landlord and Tenant, Property, Commercial Property and Welfare Benefits. The areas that I got to practise gave me the insight of what I might want to go into the future, as well as helping me choose my option modules for my final year at University. There were times when I found different areas of law quite complex and struggled to understand some concepts, however, with the support of the staff and solicitors that supervised me on the cases I would always meet with them and go through it and never felt as if I was left on my own.
Throughout my year on placement, I always felt supported both in my workload and as a staff member in general. The beauty of a placement year is that I got to experience what it would be like to work in the legal sector, as well as make sure this was the career path that I wanted to take. The reassuring part of a placement year is that it is essentially a trial run of what I may do for a future career and that I got to experience what was taught over the past two years of my degree in practice.
Along with having conduct over my own cases, I was also lucky to be introduced to other opportunities that helped me improve on my personal skills and professional skills.
Free Representation Unit (FRU)
There were times in my placement year where I felt I was going out of my comfort zone, but I am so glad that I was pushed in the right direction to get out of it. The first push being recommended by my line manager, Faye, that I undertake the Free Representation Unit (‘FRU’) Social Security Training Day and sit the test to be able to represent clients in their Social Security Tribunal appeal hearings. The utter thought of representing clients in Tribunal frightened me, I had never done anything like it before and held such a responsibility. With the support from Faye, (who supervises the Social Security cases) she made me feel at ease and helped with any questions I had to do with my case. Therefore, when I passed my FRU Social Security test in November 2017, I got my first case in January 2018. Hands down, this was the most nerve-wracking experience I have had so far, especially when you are presenting your submissions in front of a Judge and having to take responsibility when dealing with your client’s case. You could say doing this case didn’t frighten me off as I loved every minute of preparing the case, meeting the client, drafting submissions for Tribunal and presenting them at the hearing. In eight months, I have represented 15 clients in the Social Security Tribunal across the East Midlands including hearings in Nottingham, Derby, Lincoln and Chesterfield.
The skills I gained whilst being a FRU Representative were huge, my confidence grew, my organisation and time management improved and my communication skills whilst meeting with clients and sitting in front of Judge’s has grown throughout the year.
I enjoyed doing FRU Social Security that much, that I am continuing with the project at the Centre in my final year as part of my Law in Practice module and I cannot wait to carry on with the pro bono work I have been doing.
A Range of Responsibilities
My workload at the Centre didn’t just involve administrative work and casework. When I met with Faye in my first interim meeting, my main goal for the year was to improve my confidence. I was therefore given other responsibilities that gave me the opportunity to reach this goal, including presenting at lectures to third year students and speaking with parents and prospective students on NTU open days. I also talked within lectures about how a placement year had done wonders for me personally and professionally, especially with my confidence and public speaking skills.
Another role I held whilst on placement year was managing the Student Pro Bono Committee. This involved working with a group of elected students to promote pro bono work and the Centre. We entered the LawWorks Law School Challenge competition to go against other university law schools across the UK to raise as much money as we could for two charities: LawWorks and the Bar Pro Bono Unit. After five months of continuous hard work from the Committee and several hoodie sales, bake sales and a quiz, we raised an incredible £4,027 and won the Law School Challenge. The highlight of my year was going to the House of Commons to collect this award and be able to represent the university at such a prestigious event.
As a full-time student that hadn’t originally opted to have a placement year when I came to NTU, I can’t recommend it enough to law students to undertake one. The personal and professional skills you gain are second to none and put you at a great advantage over other law students because you will have already experienced and practiced in the legal sector. I am very lucky to have gone to external events to network and that people working in the legal sector from other firms knew who I was. It has put me at a great advantage when applying for training contracts.
My final point is to say thank you to everyone at the Centre that has supported and helped me this year, the year has flown by and I cannot wait to come back in a few weeks to carry on with the pro bono work as a student volunteer next academic year.
About the author
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