Why did I volunteer with the Scottish Child Law Centre?
I decided to volunteer at the Scottish Child Law Centre to increase my knowledge, experience and exposure to child law matters. I have always been interested in Family Law and having taken an eight-year break from law (into the world of investment management) between my undergraduate LLB and the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice, I was keen to gain some hands-on-law-focused experience, while also doing something worthwhile. Throughout my diploma course, I therefore volunteered one afternoon per week at the Centre.
What sort of work did I do and how did I find it?
My main responsibility was to answer phone calls from members of the public with child-law-related queries. These ranged from questions regarding education, residence and contact, child abuse, children’s health, upcoming children’s hearings, kinship care and much more. I would take details of the queries as well as some basic client information then arrange for one of the Solicitors to call the client back with advice. The telephone conversation would then be documented and the diary updated with the call-back details. After the Solicitor had called back the client, I would usually look up what advice the Solicitor had provided, for my own interest and learning.
It was a rewarding role with members of the public confiding in me often quite personal details about their family situations and discussing matters which, on some occasions, they hadn’t discussed with anyone before they called the Centre. It was also excellent experience of dealing with sometimes emotionally charged individuals and the clients were almost always grateful to have the opportunity to seek some free advice on the issues that were worrying them.
In addtion to answering phone calls, I also helped to prepare for conferences, putting tother attendee packs, checking presentations as well as providing on-the-day assistance. It wa salso a great opportunity to listen in and learn from both the SCLC Solicitors presenting as well as other fantastic speakers. I was lucky enough to attend both SCLC’s Adults with Incapacity seminar as well as the Centre’s 2018 annual conference Children and Young People in the Digital Age – Protected, Respected and Supported?
Everyone was so welcoming and approachable, making it a great atmosphere in which to volunteer. The team were always happy to provide and support if I had any queries or didn’t know how to deal with something. They were a real joy to work with. They also supplied an excellent array of home-baked treats which was a much enjoyed perk!
My name is Freya, I am 24 years old from New Zealand. I spent five years studying for a law degree and the last year of that degree completing two study exchanges in Bergen, Norway and Tübingen, Germany before moving to Edinburgh. I struggled a lot with knowing what to do post-University and had no idea whether I wanted to pursue a legal career. I loved studying law, but knew that practising law would be very different. I was on a walk one chilly January evening in Edinburgh when I passed the Scottish Child Law Centre and was immediately interested. The following week I emailed the Centre and asked to come in for a chat to learn more about what they do as a charity. The lovely Denise was so welcoming and informative that I knew I would like to get some experience from this charity. A month or so later, I had secured my full-time volunteer placement and began that 9-5 grind!
I was mainly working under the solicitor Briony who is an absolute gem – conscientious, warm, open and hilarious. The first day I sat in with her and did some practice calls with users of the service. This is the main role for a volunteer – to be the first point of contact for the SCLC. We answer the phones, take down the caller’s contact information, succinctly summarise their case and then write up their query.
I could write up what my other duties involved but I feel a lot of other volunteers have done that. So instead, I will tell you the greatest piece of advice I learnt from my time at the SCLC.
When someone one the phone is angry, don’t be authoritative with them, because that gives them no control. Their anger is probably just a cry for desperation. Instead, simply ask “what can I do to help you, what do you need from me”. Put the control back in their hands.
My month at the SCLC taught me that practising family law is as much about psychology as it is knowing the law. It is vital to be able to read your client, assess their motivations, cut through the manipulation but above all, to always strive to help the most innocent person in family law situations – the child.
Thank you for creating such a relaxed, welcoming and happy environment SCLC!
Freya Sawbridge, May 2018
I volunteered at the Scottish Child Law Centre for just under two months. The culture within the Centre is both motivating and rewarding. Volunteers are given a great deal of responsibility and are given the opportunity to interact directly with users of the service. This is a great chance to develop strong communication skills and build your confidence within a legal environment. All the staff at the Centre are willing to answer questions, are consistently supportive and are a genuinely lovely group of people.
My work at the Centre included speaking to users of the service, updating excel spreadsheets, proof reading training documents, attending and supporting on a training day and shadowing solicitors in their work.
My placement at the SCLC provided me with the opportunity to rethink careers within the legal sector. The solicitors at the Centre opened my eyes to alternative careers available within law and family law specifically. This has been incredibly beneficial and has increased my excitement about a career in law. I was also given interview advice for traineeship applications.
I would highly recommend undertaking a placement at the Centre. It is a brilliant opportunity to witness first hand the highly beneficial work the SCLC conducts and how this work supports those that need it within Scotland. I look forward to becoming a weekly volunteer at the Centre in the future.
Work I did at SCLC
Communicated over the phone with users of the service. These were often vulnerable persons.
Shadowed solicitors as they advised users of the service.
Updated the calendar and excel spreadsheets.
Wrote up information on users of the service to support the SCLC solicitors.
Prepared documents for SCLC training days.
Proof read a PowerPoint presentation for an SCLC solicitor before a training day.
Put into place a handover system for volunteers. This clarified correct procedures regarding confidential information and helped to ensure that all users of the service received advice.
My experience at the Scottish Child Law Centre as a school student on work experience has offered me more than I could have imagined. Not only have I learnt about how the Centre functions but I have also had the opportunity to gain many new skills. I have met the most amazing people who were willing to offer advice and help me out at any given moment. Their kindness made this experience even more gratifying. I aspire to share their qualities and kindness and hope that one day I find myself in position similar to theirs whether it is as a volunteer studying at university or a solicitor in the charity sector, I do not know. All that I do know is that it was a privilege to volunteer in such an extraordinary place with such fabulous people and I hope that I have the opportunity to work here again. I apologise for the number of post-it notes I used and for eating all the KitKats- they’re just so yummy!
I am in awe of everything that the Centre manages to achieve. They somehow with their few hardworking staff members and volunteers manage to offer advice, plan conferences and trainings events – all of which requires millions of work. I myself have attended one of their conferences and I can’t recommend their events enough. The conference I attended was interesting, informative and inspiring; it was after their conference that I approached Evelyn asking her if it was possible to get involved. I will be attending their future events such as the annual round table debate at Parliament too and I am looking forward to gaining new knowledge and seeing everyone again.
I will miss the Centre very much and thank them hugely for taking me on for the week. I have learnt valuable lessons and I am privileged to have had the opportunity. I also have to thank you for the dress code; I love wearing work clothes, it makes me feel like Ally McBeal :D. I strongly recommend taking the opportunity to work here if it arises, if not make it happen. If what I have already written isn’t enough, they have a toaster and a jar of Nutella…
Hopefully I’ll be seeing you soon…..
My time as a law student volunteer at the Scottish Child Law Centre was an incredibly rewarding, enlightening and enjoyable experience. The work environment is perfectly balanced between being professional but also welcoming and friendly, where you stand to learn a great deal while simultaneously enjoying a cup of tea and some biscuits with knowledgeable and amicable colleagues.
The work itself is interesting and important, and I spent much of my time talking to people seeking advice on the phone as well as working with solicitors on various projects. As a result, I got to work on a variety of tasks, broadening my knowledge and skills as I helped with research, administrative duties and the creation of teaching materials for events and workshops.
But just as important as my interest in the work, I can’t stress enough what a pleasure it is to work with the staff and volunteers at the SCLC. They truly respect their volunteers and there were countless times when I was touched by their generosity and thoughtfulness. Whether it was someone bringing in chocolates or getting a card from them when I passed my driving test, I always felt valued and a part of the team.
I consider my time spent at the Centre invaluable and in my mind I think it would be difficult to find more welcoming environment than the one fostered by the staff and volunteers at the SCLC.
Respect and thanks,
Patrick O’Sullivan, University of Edinburgh
During my month with SCLC, I experienced much more than I thought I would: I was trusted with key responsibilities and given tasks in a way that not only made me feel like I was truly a part of the team but also helped me learn so much more about the processes of a legal centre and the reality of child and family law in Scotland today.
As a first legal internship, it was a relaxed and extremely friendly environment. It was hard to know what to expect before arriving at the Centre, but within a few days, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly lucky to be doing an internship with the SCLC. The solicitors, admin staff and other volunteers were a joy to work for and with: I believe I not only gained key legal experience during my time here but made genuine friends in the process.
Some of the things I did for the Centre during my internship included:
- A research project on “After Care”
- Research on Children’s Mental Health in Scotland and finding charities and organisations for SCLC to potentially work with in future
- Sorting through and updating website query emails
- Answering calls and logging them in the system
- Taking down messages from the answering machine and calling people back for further details when needed
- Occasionally taking administrative calls e.g. taking orders for publications, providing info on training days etc.
- Translating publications into French including correcting and adding to translations already on the website
- Assisting a solicitor during call backs: typing up conversation and writing down developments of the case
- Visiting the Scottish parliament
- Helping teach new volunteers how to log and answer calls
- Helped edit and formulate volunteer welcome/help sheets containing instructions on daily volunteer duties and SCLC vocabulary
- Getting to know the inner workings of a law centre and improving my admin skills e.g. how to use and create Excel spreadsheets, how to use an Access system, how to keep information from clients processed efficiently and confidentially.
I feel like I have come out the other end of this internship with many more skills and experiences than I could have hoped for and with a greater zeal for family/child law than I had at the start. Although at times the experience felt like a baptism of fire (answering calls straight away, learning how to cope with very angry/irate or upset callers etc.) if I could do it all again or stay on, I would!
Thank you to everyone at SCLC
Molly Duncan, Edinburgh University
I have really enjoyed my work placement here at the Scottish Child Law Centre. All the staff and volunteers are friendly and welcoming, making it a great working environment. Though I’ve only been here for a short time it is clear that the Centre helps many people in need of legal advice despite it being a small organisation. I have learned many things and developed my IT skills further and I am very keen to come back for another placement! I highly recommend the SCLC for anyone looking to volunteer.
Boroughmuir High School