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Volunteer at FRU to boost your career

NALP paralegals are eligible to volunteer to work for the Free Representation Unit - a charity that provides representation for clients who cannot afford legal help - giving members the chance to develop their skills and boost their career.

NALP members who are studying for the Level 7 Post-Graduate Diploma, which is equivalent to the LPC, and those who have completed the Level 4 Diploma in Paralegal Studies, which is equivalent to the first two years of the LLB, can apply to work at the FRU.

About 500 volunteers work with the charity each year, dealing with on average 1,100 cases covering social security and employment issues.

A number of volunteers are already paralegals, having gone through the LLB route and see this as a way to build their career.

"We are happy to take on board, for those social security cases, those who have completed Level 4, and for employment cases, those who are studying for Level 7. We would encourage people to get involved.

Our volunteers tend to be either studying or working part-time or perhaps our work can fit around their lifestyles," said Clive Tulloch, chief executive of the FRU.

"People do need to think through how volunteering will fit in if they work full time. Many employers are happy for them to do an hour's clinic in a Citizen Advice Bureau in an evening. But it is much harder to get time off work to appear at a tribunal at 10am or 2pm for two or three days.

We would love to see paralegals volunteer but they must check that it is realistic for them to do it."

Amanda Hamilton, chief executive of the NALP, welcomed the news that members are eligible to apply. "This is a great chance for paralegals to practise their advocacy skills," she said.

Most people applying to be a volunteer will need to go on a training day covering either social security or employment, and which are held three times a year. The next sessions are likely to be held in February.

After the training day, volunteers are asked to take a written test. This is to make sure they are ready to represent a client in a live case. The final step is to visit a tribunal.

If applicants are suitably experienced, some or all of these requirements can be waived. After completing training, they will be able to take on their first case. Once they have completed their first case, volunteers are considered to be a ratified representative.

Like most charities, the FRU tends to see a big difference between the numbers of those who start the volunteering process and those who complete it.

Many may deal with one case, with fewer handling two or three cases over a year. However, the FRU does expect volunteers to take up to three cases a year.

Volunteers provide help through giving advice, case preparation and representation.

FRU representatives appear before the employment tribunal, and before the first-tier tribunal in social security, child support and criminal injury cases.

One of the organisation's aims is to further the education and training of law students by giving them the chance to carry out case preparation and advocacy guidance.

They get the opportunity to take responsibility for a case from the time it is listed for a hearing through to its completion.

"This is a great way to build your CV and develop the legal skills required in practice," said Mr Tulloch.

For more information on the FRU and how to enrol as a volunteer, visit their website: www.thefru.org.uk