Up to 20 volunteers work within the Centre at any one time and they provide significant extra resource to help meet growing demand for the expert legal advice that the Centre offers. Volunteers join the centre both individually and through student placements from both Coventry University and the University of Warwick.
We promote volunteering for two reasons: our volunteers bring energy and enthusiasm and we benefit hugely from their input. They increase our capacity to help clients and enable us to assist more people. Volunteers cannot replace the capacity lost by the cuts to legal aid funding but they are an increasingly important way of supporting our services.
The second reason is that we believe strongly that we need to support law graduates who are interested in working in social welfare law.
The cuts to legal aid have caused a drain in expertise from our sector. Recruitment is very difficult and in some areas of law – like community care – there is little option other than to train our own advisers. Training contracts are hard to come by and much of the formal training of lawyers doesn’t touch on the kind of work we do at Law Centres.
We think our work is exciting, challenging and we know it changes lives. When people volunteer with us, many of them are hooked because they see the impact of the work we do. We believe we have a responsibility to create and support the next generation of social welfare lawyers.
We work hard to make sure our volunteers are well trained and that they are able to take on work that is meaningful and rewarding. What we get back from this as an organisation is enormous.
And we develop a home grown group of people who are keen to apply when we have vacancies. Some of our volunteers talk about their experiences below:
I currently volunteer in both the Housing and Immigration teams at Coventry Law Centre. I grew up near Coventry but I haven’t lived here for about 15 years. I left the area to study law and to travel. I eventually ended up working at a Law Centre in London for a couple of years. However, in February this year I decided to move back to the Midlands to be with family.
When I moved back a month or so later, I didn’t have a job and I decided to look for some voluntary work. Volunteering at Coventry Law Centre has been an excellent way of getting to know the area again and to feel a part of the community. The environment at the Law Centre is very supportive and I am learning a lot from the staff.
I am grateful for the opportunities volunteering here has opened up. They will definitely shape my new life here in Coventry.
Rebecca Eyton, Housing and Immigration Teams
I’m a student at Coventry University and have just completed my law degree. I have been volunteering at Coventry Law Centre since January 2014 in the Employment law department and I have to say that I really enjoy it. The staff and volunteers have been really friendly and it’s such a pleasant working environment.
Volunteering at the Law Centre has been a valuable experience because I’ve been able to help, sometimes vulnerable members of the community, who might not be able to access legal advice elsewhere. I also worked with the Law Centre team in the Great Legal Bake earlier on in 2014 which was really successful and also helped to promote the cause of access to justice for all.
On the whole, I’m very grateful to be involved in such a worthwhile and important community organisation.
Olohigbe Musah-Eroje, Employment Law Team
I initially joined Coventry Law Centre as a voluntary caseworker within the Welfare Benefits team. My role has progressed and I am now employed as a Housing Advisor within the Housing and Community Care team.
I studied Law at Coventry University and I have just recently completed my final year. The opportunity to volunteer at the Law Centre arose while I was studying and I jumped at the opportunity of a legal work placement as I wanted to get a feel as to how the law worked in practice.
As a volunteer the work I undertook was interesting, engaging and it was extremely rewarding knowing that the work I did was benefitting some of the most vulnerable members of the community. The biggest personal benefit I received was the ability to develop practical legal skills such as letter writing, drafting persuasive arguments and interviewing clients. These skills coupled with my degree have been pertinent to my development as a student of the law and have laid the foundation to been able to undertake my new role as a Housing Adviser. Without my voluntary position I would not have had the skills or even the confidence to apply for this role.
I am now thoroughly enjoying the fast paced environment of the housing team and Housing Law itself is a fascinating area of law. The true reward however; comes from the ability to use the law to secure and protect people’s homes.
In terms of next steps: I plan to undertake my LPC part-time at The University of Law in Birmingham, while continuing to work as a Housing Advisor , with the long term aim being to secure a training contract at the Law Centre.
Alexander Gidden, Housing Team (and formerly a volunteer in Welfare Benefit Team)