‘Invaluable… and a real eye-opener’
As we celebrate student volunteer week, law student volunteer Jonathan Moore told us about his experience volunteering with Citizens Advice East Berkshire
“I had wanted to volunteer at CA for a long time as I’d always enjoyed helping others and thought I would enjoy volunteering there, but was never able to fit it around work.
“Once I knew I would have some free time during my course I applied straightaway, before my course had even started in fact!
“At first I thought I was unsuccessful as I applied back in September but didn’t hear from CA until around December, but that just made for a nice surprise right before Christmas.”
Originally from Durham, Jonathan moved to Berkshire in 2022 to study at ULAW Reading. He started at CAEB in January 2023, aged 29.
“During my time at CA I was studying the PGDL (Law conversion course) with an SQE 1 Prep course tacked onto the end so the course qualified for the postgrad loan!
“Training took around six months, with the first three involving a lot of shadowing and controlled interactions with clients while I became familiar with how clients and their issues were handled. For the following three months I was supervised with a progressively lighter touch until I was comfortable handling cases from start to finish on my own.”
Balancing volunteer work with studying
“The GDL is a famously intense course with the core modules from a three-year undergrad course compressed into eight or nine months. That said, with a little diligence it wasn’t too difficult to squeeze a day of volunteering in.
“CAEB were also very understanding of the demands of my course and so if I needed to work on a different day because of a rescheduled seminar, or even take a couple weeks away to focus on final exams, they were happy to be flexible and accommodate me.
“I started off working Tuesdays and some Thursdays before moving to Wednesdays and/or Fridays after my timetable changed for the second half of my course. I seldom worked remotely as I much preferred to be in the office with others. I feel that especially when you are newish to a role, having people around you that you can go to for help is invaluable.”
“As someone who wants to become a solicitor eventually, the exposure to client and case management has been an invaluable early experience. As an individual, learning how our country works (or doesn’t) in terms of benefits, housing etc has been a real eye-opener.”
“The first three months are challenging as the prospect of handling cases with such a limited background knowledge of the issues being addressed can be quite daunting. That being said, when you become more comfortable with the role and you begin to be thanked by clients for the effort you put into helping them with their problems, it is a really satisfying feeling.”
“I felt quite supported during my time. Managers were always happy to lend me an ear when I was stumped by a problem and I never felt pressured to push myself beyond what I was capable of in terms of cases handled per day. I felt respect for my limitations and gratitude for my hard work.”
Could your volunteer experience have been improved?
“Getting into handling client work at an earlier stage will help with retention of trainees, as the first few weeks of reading can be a real slog.”
Jonathan volunteered for almost exactly a year and has secured a role as paralegal at a small local firm aiming to become a solicitor eventually.
“Ultimately, as a career changer I know people are liable to change their minds about what kind of work they want to do, and so I’m happy to take my time to figure out what I’d like to specialise in.”
Why should students consider volunteering?
“If you can spare the time, you’ll get the chance to give back to your community while gaining so much in terms of skills and experience for yourself. It’s a win win!”
“I’m terrible at goodbyes, but it [my last day] was a lovely surprise. It’s nice to feel that people appreciated the work I did for the organisation, even if it was for a relatively short period of time compared to other volunteers. Plus, I’ve been wanting a mug that’s microwaveable for when my tea gets cold at home, so the CA mug was a real score.”
For more information about student volunteering opportunities please click here.