The Free Representation Unit
other experiences as they start to build their legal careers. In recent years we have welcomed senior legal and judicial figures to our office, including Lord Justice Ryder, Lord Goldsmith, President of the Law Society Christina Blacklaws, and Richard Atkins QC the chair of the Bar Council. During these visits volunteers discussed their work and current issues with these distinguished figures. Other volunteers have been interviewed for BBC Radio 4’s Law in Action series or took part in a CV clinic offered by a leading chambers. One lucky volunteer even received a copy of the publication First 100 years of Women in Law with a dedication to FRU signed by Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court.” Allison adds: “FRU work helps you to develop a real feeling for the strengths and weaknesses of a case, and then see it play out with all the unpredictable things that spring up along the way. Clients and cases are very diverse – for example, you might have a seriously mentally ill client in a social security case, who would struggle to attend their tribunal without your help, and then an employment client with a professional background who is legally knowledgeable and well prepared. Sometimes the work is about helping a client present the facts in the clearest way and sometimes there are points of law or complicated evidential issues – I have cross-examined a HR director over the calendar settings on his IT network!” FRU helps volunteers to develop the ability to put someone at ease and listen to them, while keeping the legal issues in mind and getting the necessary information, explains Allison: “Clients may be very angry about how they’ve been treated at work or embarrassed to be applying for benefits and discussing personal medical issues with strangers. There can be a lot at stake financially too.”
available to talk things through,” comments David. “It is a big step to take your first case to tribunal and we are very keen to ensure that representatives do not feel that they have been thrown in at the deep end. We encourage volunteers to share their experiences and try to promote a collaborative learning experience. We always remember that we are providing a service to clients who need to be confident that their FRU representative will do the best possible job on their behalf.” Allison confirms the important role that the FRU legal staff play: “They are a major reason I wanted to volunteer, as they are passionate about the work and an absolute goldmine of information. But the staff are there to help you get things right; they will not hold your hand through the work. No one will be in your client conference or at tribunal with you. It is your case and your responsibility. You need to develop a sense of when to ask for help and I think that’s a useful skill to take to a training contract or pupillage.” David explains why volunteering for FRU is such a good experience for people who want a career at the Bar: “The essence of being a barrister is advocacy, which is something you can only learn through practical experience. When you are in front of the judge, you know that it’s down to you and this makes it particularly rewarding, whatever the outcome. In addition, FRU provides essential experience in client care and in taking on a case that may have been prepared by the client themselves or another agency.” David also emphasises the relevance of FRU to aspiring solicitors: “A ‘magic circle’ firm, Linklaters LLP, has placed a trainee at FRU for six months of each year for several years now. Linklaters does so because it recognises the value of FRUwork to solicitors, whatever field of law they eventually plan to specialise in.”
For more information about FRU and how to become a volunteer, visit www.thefru.org.uk.
David also highlights the other benefits of being a FRU volunteer: “We give our volunteers
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