“Volunteering is one of the best ways students can hone their existing skills while gaining new skills from entirely different disciplines.” Ben Robinson, LPC-LLM Student
Volunteering is a great way to contribute to and be an important part of the community as a City student. On International Volunteer Day, CAREERS Guest Blogger, Christianah Babajide, caught up with City’s very own Community Volunteer Officer, Ben Robinson. Ben runs the Start-Ed Pro Bono Legal Clinic and has been doing so since 2014 at City, University of London.
Ben Robinson is a Law graduate who is completing his LLM in Legal Practice at The City Law School. He is also the Community Volunteering Officer at City, University of London, overseeing community engagement and volunteering initiatives across the institution.
In this exclusive interview, he informs us of the rewards and realities of Start Ed and other pro bono and volunteering opportunities at City…
Christianah Babajide: How did StartEd start?
Ben Robinson: Start-Ed began in 2011 and 2012 as a way of addressing the pressing need for early stage legal advice amongst start-ups and small businesses in the Old Street “Silicon Roundabout” area which is right on our doorstep. Dr. Eric Klotz and Professor David Collins launched the clinic together, as a way to meet this need while also providing commercial awareness to our students in a relatively unique way, through a pro bono opportunity that offered commercial experience alongside community capacity building.
CB: How big has it grown?
BR: We’ve currently got over 3,000 start-ups and small businesses in our Meetup group, and we have around 200 students apply each term. Mathematically we can presently accommodate around 75 students each term, but we are looking to expand this capacity moving forward.
CB: What can law students get out of StartEd?
BR: The biggest thing students get from Start-Ed is commercial awareness. For current purposes, this is simply an awareness of how business actually gets done and concerns faced by people trying to get it done. Students also get an opportunity to meet and work alongside qualified lawyers who can share their experience and stories of their own career trajectory.
CB: What have you gained personally from the legal clinic?
BR: In my time participating (as a student) and then going on to run the clinic I have improved my event management skills, networking skills, and my client interviewing skills. I have also made friends and professional contacts which I would never have had otherwise, and gone on to co-found my own legal clinic called Roof Over London. Without my involvement in Start-Ed, I am not sure it would have even occurred to me that this was something I could do.
BR: Roof Over London is a free legal clinic for people in private rented accommodation which I launched with Professor Dan Wilsher here at City, University of London in early 2015 partially in response to legal aid changes introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2013 (LASPO) and partially because of the dire situation many London renters found themselves in even prior to these changes.
In our first year of operation, we helped many clients – mostly students, with the overwhelming majority being students here at City. Since joining the University of London in September 2016 our students now have access to the University of London Housing Services. This provides a high-quality legal advice service which is accessible at all times, while we were only able to operate every second Thursday evening. As such, we have temporarily suspended the Roof Over London advice sessions, meaning that there will be no opportunity for new students to take part until at least the Spring 2017 term.
We are working on strengthening referral and support links with local Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureaus so that we can maximise our impact and helping the people who need it most rather than needlessly duplicating another service. Once we have those links to be able to help out Law Centres that are cracking under the strain of their increased caseload, we will be reaching out to existing applicants and push messages to City students encouraging them to get involved.
CB: What are the realities and rewards of volunteering work?
BR: Realities: There are an incredible number of opportunities to do interesting and meaningful things. However, the volunteering and charity sector (including pro bono) often has high turnover and increasingly scarce resources, so sometimes it is tough to get in contact. Student sometimes get frustrated because they feel like it shouldn’t be difficult to give time away for free. On this point, I would say (as gently as possible) to remember that it isn’t really about you. Volunteering and pro bono activities are about the people and communities you serve and improve – so try to be persistent, patient and most of all humble when pursuing and participating in your dream volunteering or pro bono opportunity.
Rewards: Through volunteering, you can gain any skills you might learn through employment, often at a much higher level of autonomy than a job of a similar level would afford. You can establish and demonstrate experience no matter what educational or professional level you currently find yourself at. You can have fun, meet new and interesting people, remind yourself of you own power to make a difference, and you can change the world for the better, not years from now after you graduate or find a particular job but later this week or right now, today.
CB: What are some of the volunteering opportunities available at City?
BR: We work with the Southwark Appropriate Adult Service, a range of one-off opportunities including our gardening group, and many student-led projects including our student green spaces group, a bulk food buying cooperative, and many opportunities with St. Luke’s Community Centre which is just round the corner from City. We have hundreds of different volunteering opportunities on our eXtensible Volunteering System (XVS) at http://volunteering.city.ac.uk, and students and charities launch new ones continuously. Current City students can register there, and if they have further questions they can reach me on firstname.lastname@example.org