In-house Lawyers: Local Citizenship

In-house Lawyers: 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!

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”.