Using your skills to give back

Setanta Landers is a litigation lawyer in Dublin. He is also a chartered tax advisor and trade mark attorney and volunteers at the Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) in Rathmines on Wednesday evenings after work. He gives us his top 3 reasons for volunteering.

The FLAC advice clinic runs from 7pm to 9pm, with people having pre-arranged 20-minute appointment slots. Typically there are two lawyers, whether solicitors or barristers, in attendance on the night. Another volunteer assistant meets and greets the public and handles scheduled appointments.  

It might seem a contradiction, but the purpose of the legal advice centre is not necessarily to give legal advice. Considered, detailed advice would not be possible in such a short timeframe. The aim is to assist people to determine whether their issue is a legal one and to identify where they can find further assistance, whether from public bodies or other organisations.

What FLAC offers is free access to highly skilled specialists with many years of collective knowledge and expertise for a short free consultation. Attendees at the clinic are from all backgrounds and ages. Some attend individually, some with family or friends. Sadly, some never turn up, leaving a precious space vacant which might have been otherwise utilised.

Some clients come with no papers, and others arrive with volumes impossible to get through in a small window. Some are distressed, upset or fearful. Others are in a more exploratory mood, asking how referenda work or seeking an overview on particular aspects of a legal issue affecting their lives. All are welcome.

I can offer three reasons for volunteering:

Firstly, a visit to FLAC may be the first time many people may have access to a solicitor or barrister. I’m keenly aware that I am representing my profession but I also try to be myself and stay approachable. Often lawyers are satirised in popular culture however in my experience, solicitors and barristers are approachable, caring people who studied law to give back to the communities in which they live and raise their families.

Secondly, we can genuinely help people. We can say, yes, you have a valid complaint which for a lot of people can be a source of support in and of itself. Yes, it’s okay to not accept an unfair practice. Yes, you have rights. Yes, there is a law that protects you. That can provide comfort and hope. Just as importantly, we can recommend practical ways of approaching a matter without recourse to the courts or the legal system.

Thirdly, as anyone who volunteers will tell you, it can also be a selfish exercise. I volunteer because I like to. I look forward to meeting new people. I am glad when I can help them. I enjoy the challenge of testing my legal knowledge and applying myself to a particular problem. Sometimes I do not know the answer, but thankfully I am trained to find it quickly and we both learn from the experience. Sometimes there is no answer and it’s just as important to know that too. It makes me a better lawyer. It allows me to use that experience for future attendees’ benefit.

I would advise anyone with a legal query to visit a FLAC clinic, they are available to all. And to anyone with an interest in volunteering, I would say give it a go: you get much more than you give.  

This blog is part of our National Volunteering Week 2016 blog series. Get involved on social media using #NVW2016.

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