Volunteering if you are a qualified lawyer
This page provides information if you wish to volunteer at Richmond Legal Advice Service (RLAS) and you are a qualified lawyer (What is meant by a “lawyer volunteer”).
The information on this page provides answers to questions that potential volunteers commonly ask of RLAS. RLAS receives a number of enquiries from people wanting to gain practical legal experience and encourages them.
I am a solicitor or barrister. To give advice do I need a practising certificate?
You do not need current practising certificate to see and advise clients.
Some of our advisers are not practising as solicitors or barristers. For example, some advisers might have child care responsibilities, or are lecturing or pursuing other activities.
When is RLAS open?
In Richmond, each Tuesday evenings between 8pm and 9.30pm.
How long do I need to spend at a session
Although the stated time when RLAS is open is between 8pm and 9pm in practice the following apply:
- a volunteer should normally arrive 10 to 15 minutes before 8pm as clients often start arriving before that time. The rooms we use need setting up (putting chairs in the right place, etc) and our contact sheets, leaflets and pens need giving out to clients
- a session may run on after 9.30pm (approximately). If there are lot of clients or some clients have complex matters or cannot be dealt with quickly, it may not be possible to stop at 9.30pm
- you will need to make a note of the advice you have given to a client. If the session runs on until 9.30pm you may not have time to do so at that session. You will need to put aside time after the session to do this (either at the end of the session or on another day). This will mean that, on average, you should expect will need to spend between 1 hour 15 minutes to 2 hours at each session (plus any travel time to and from the RLAS advice session location plus additional time to make a note of the advice you provide (if you are not able to do this at the session itself).
How often will I have to provide advice?
Volunteers are put on a rota and are normally required to attend 1 week in 4 or 5 on average.
A rota is compiled normally for a 4 month period. If cannot make make a session then it is normally possible to arrange a swap with another adviser.
How specialist or extensive should my legal knowledge as a volunteer be?
The experience of most volunteers is that clients normally require mostly common sense basic advice or some very detailed but specific advice on a particular legal issue or step.
For example, if a client is involved in a consumer dispute, or have a neighbour problem, they may wish to receive advice on starting or defending court action (the steps in taking litigation, letters before action, procedure, costs and so on).
For example, a client may have received general advice from a CAB and then require more specialist help on particular point which the CAB could not answer.
Practically, if you find you cannot help the client before you, then you should refer them to another volunteer, or another advice agency or other specialist legal help, or if you wish to carry out some follow up work of your own. See next point.
What should I do if I cannot help a client?
If a client requires
- detailed, specialist, advice (which is outside of the expertise of the adviser); or
- ongoing advice and assistance (like if the client had instructed a firm of solicitors); or
- urgent action to be taken on their behalf
then RLAS is not the right organisation for them. If a volunteer has a client that falls into these categories then the client is offered the choice of coming back to another session and to see another adviser who knows more about the subject matter the client has asked for help or refer the client onto a firm of solicitors or another advice agency.
- for each volunteer the areas of law in which they specialise in;
- a list of all the firms of solicitors in the London Borough of Richmond and surrounding area who carry out legal aid work (categorised by area of law);
- a list of firms of solicitors who specialise in particular areas of law (but do not undertake legal aid).
What kind of advice or assistance do clients require?
In principle RLAS has no restrictions on what types of law it can deal with. But in practice there are some areas which rarely occur at our advice sessions. These are immigration law, social housing law, criminal law and debt advice and assistance. (In any case, where immigration law is involved, advisers (of whatever type) need to have an additional qualifications. Other than the most general advice an adviser should not deal with a client requiring immigration law advice.)
Is follow-up work necessary or required?
There is not normally any follow-up work necessary. Occasionally a lawyer volunteer may need to do some research on a particular issue or legal area or simply does not have available information at a session. This will need doing after an advice session and then provided to the client outside of the session. The amount of follow up work that a volunteer wishes to do is up to to them as long as 4 important principles are kept in mind:
- RLAS aims is to provide to initial and basic legal advice; and
- RLAS is not seen as taking on or acting on behalf of a client (such as a firm of solicitors or a law centre); and
- Lawyer volunteers should not, generally, be writing or drafting documents for clients; and
- Lawyer volunteers should not, generally, be communicating with or dealing with third parties on behalf of clients If a volunteer wishes to do follow up work, all of its (and all documents/correspondence sent or received) has to be noted and then provided to RLAS.
How many clients can I expect to see at a session?
RLAS has an “open door” for clients, so it is not possible to indicate how many clients will come on any particular evening. But in practice, a volunteer should expect to see 3 to 6 clients per a session (based on a volunteer spending no more than 10–15 minutes with each client on average).
How many lawyers are present at an advice session
At every session there are normally 2 to 4 lawyers present (plus any non lawyer volunteers).
What is meant by a “lawyer volunteer”?
The following are considered “lawyer volunteers”:
- a solicitor (who has completed their training contract and has been admitted as a solicitor in England)
- a trainee solicitor (undertaking a training contract in England)1
- a barrister (who has been called to the bar and has completed her or his pupillage, in England)
- a barrister who have been called to the bar (and is undertaking a pupillage) in England
Last updated: 24 August 2017
This category will include a person who has completed their training contract but their application to become a solicitor is under consideration by the SRA. ↩