Local citizenship

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“How to” … Write to your MP

Lawyers writing to their MPs is a powerful way of influencing change. Justice is an important issue for MPs.

My son recently wrote to his MP about Boko Haram and the crisis in northern Nigeria, asking the Government to take action. It took several months for her to respond, but when she did, she forwarded a long and very well considered letter from the Minister at the Department for International Development responsible for the UK’s response to the crisis, signed by the Minister.

Here are some suggestions and tips:

  • MPs are most responsive to letters from their constituents on constituency issues. So for example if there has been a newspaper report in your area about modern slavery, a letter to your local MP about modern slavery will have more impact in the light of that report.
  • When a lawyer writes to an MP on a legal issue, particularly when the MP is a lawyer, it can be useful to start “As a lawyer myself…” or similar.
  • Every letter should be personalised.
  • An easy way to write to your MP is by using Write to Them.
  • But remember, an old-fashioned letter sent to the House of Commons is often better than an email.
  • Good tips on writing to MPs are available at Open Rights Group.
  • Start with a small step. Discuss it with a friend. Maybe organise a letter writing campaign.

So whether it is modern slavery, the closure of your local library, the Government’s response to flood or famine, get writing!

“How to” … Contribute to your local community

Have you thought about volunteering within your local community?

As lawyer your contribution would have great value. Think about the many skills that you have developed over your career all of which contribute to making you a successful lawyer. These might include:

  • Analytical thinking
  • Writing
  • Problem solving
  • Leadership
  • Advocacy
  • Giving and explaining legal advice
  • Investigation and research
  • Management and organisational skills
  • Financial literacy

Just imagine if you took those skills out of your office and employed them within your local community. Who would benefit from them?

  • Governing bodies – schools, hospitals
  • Charity boards of trustees
  • Clients of Law Centres and Local Citizens Advice
  • Local people

Then imagine what the wider community would gain – local schools, hospitals and charities would be informed and well run by local, committed professionals. Local people could gain access to legal advice that was otherwise out of their reach. This in turn benefits the wider community by improving social cohesion, saving money on NHS referrals and enabling charities to better support the local community.

That all sounds great but what do I get out of it?

That’s the great thing – volunteering benefits you too by:

  • Developing existing and new skills:
    • Governance
    • Team building
    • Leadership
    • Change management
    • Strategic management
  • Building new networking opportunities
  • An improving sense of well being
  • Becoming more aware of local community issues

Your company can also benefit through the Corporate Social Responsibility schemes due to the additional skills you gain at no training cost to them!

What’s more, if lawyers can engage more in society, this must surely help to improve public perception of them. So, no excuses – get involved!

 

“How to” … Make a business case for pro bono

Some organisations are better than others at promoting, encouraging or supporting their employees in dedicating time to voluntary work. This article helps you make a business case for flexible working in your organisation to accommodate pro bono or charitable work.

As an employee you may think that your organisation can either do more or do it perhaps in a different way. As an in-house lawyer you have a unique set of skills that you can engage to positively contribute to local and global society and your organisation can support you in doing that. It can be difficult to know where to start and, depending on the nature of your organisation, the priorities and expectations of management will differ. However there are common themes that can you can adapt to suit your organisation.

If you are an employee that has ambitions to develop an in-house pro bono, or any other charitable, programme within your team here are some pointers to help you with your next steps.

Step 1 – Know what you want

You may have a clear idea of what it is you want to achieve already but in order to “start the conversation” make sure you know what it is you are asking for. Investing in research at this stage will enable you to communicate your ambitions in a precise manner; foresee challenges; and enable others to get on board.

Tip: Think about what you think you need; how you will go about implementing and managing the programme; and what time-frames you want to work to. Are you asking for time off work; budget; facilities to host meetings; people resources; or…?

Step 2 – Start the conversation

An ideal time to start the conversation with your line manager is during your performance review or when you set your career development plans for the year ahead. However, if you are part way through a year, don’t wait! There’s no time like the present, especially if you are looking for a budget to be allocated, as your management team will need to budget for the forthcoming financial year.

Tip: Think about how your proposal aligns with the work that you do, either from an individual or organisational perspective; how it will develop your skills; and how it can benefit the wider organisation.

If your line manager is in a position to give you the approval that you need to proceed with your proposal, then you can set the wheels in motion and kick-off! For many, however, approval will be required further up the management chain, especially if you are seeking a budget.

Step 3 – Build interest

Whether you are ready to launch your programme, or need to develop your business case further, you will need to gauge interest within your team. You want to ensure that you will have a pool of volunteers that are eager and engaged, demonstrating to management that your programme is viable.

Tip: Talk to colleagues over coffee, develop conversations more formally in team meetings, and follow-up with an email with links that are relevant to the proposed programme. Ask colleagues to “vote” for whether they would volunteer with your programme.

Step 4 – Drafting a business case

By this stage, your line manager has either indicated that they will support your proposal through to the next level of management, or has asked for more information before they can consider your proposal any further. In either case, a business case is a clear method of communicating to management, in a digestible and familiar format, the information they need to make a decision on whether to approve your programme.

Tip: Once you have a draft business case as your starting point; adapt it to your team and organisation so that it is meaningful; and ask a colleague to review and critique it before submitting it to your manager. Offer to sit down with your manager to talk hrough any questions before they take the business case forward to wider management for consideration and approval.

Finding role models

Anyone can make a difference, be they student or retired judge!

For inspiration, have a look at the winners of LawWorks pro bono awards. They make an award for student pro bono work too. This year’s winners will be announced on 5th December 2017.

It’s also worth checking out the Access to Justice Foundation Award winners. In 2017 it was Northumbria university law school.

Case studies on the LawWorks website give some great ideas about how to get involved. For example, David Hochauser QC is an example of someone who saw a need and approached LawWorks to help set up a new legal advice centre for homeless people in Islington. There are plenty of other examples.

You don’t even have to have finished your training to start giving something back. Have a look at this blog by student Jenny Lanigan who volunteered at the Local Citizens Advice while doing her GDL course.

There are a wealth of opportunities for those transitioning from full-time work as a lawyer too, not least as charity trustees. Sian Croxon, formerly a partner at DLA Piper, is now involved in a range of social impact initiatives under the firm’s innovative pro bono initiative.

As lawyers, we can really make things happen. Social innovation and the law go hand in hand. Take a look at these articles:

Pro bono needs to be part of the culture, and if it isn’t where you are, start a conversation with your employer! Mishcon is a great example of how it can work.

Finally, trainee solicitor Oliver Haddock has some helpful pointers on how to get started in this article on “The power of pro bono: how volunteering can kick-start your career”.

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