Welcome to the first in our MHC Moments series, where we will be shining a spotlight on the contributions our people make to our community and the experiences that make us who we are.
Yvanne Kennedy, an associate in our Public, Regulatory & Investigations team, talks to us about her volunteering experience with Free Legal Advice Clinics (FLAC).
Tell us about a pro bono project that you have worked on
I have volunteered with the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) for about three and a half years, since just after I qualified. I briefly volunteered from the Citizens Information Centre in Finglas and ran a couple of clinics there with other lawyers. When March 2020 hit, FLAC were very quick to switch to running their clinics by phone, and they have continued that way since. I have run a phone clinic for them approximately once a month since then, and assist up to four people in each clinic. Queries range from family law to landlord & tenant to consumer information and many areas in between. We receive a brief summary of the legal issue that the person is experiencing along with their contact details the day before the clinic, so you have some time to look into issues if needed, and put your hand up if you don't feel you have the right expertise to deal with a query, and this can then be redirected.
What did you find most rewarding?
In MHC, we're always focused on plain English, and making things as straightforward as possible for our clients, and for anyone we encounter day-to-day. As far as possible, we try to take the mystery out of the law. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case more generally. Some issues may have a reasonably straightforward solution, but if you aren't sure where to look or who to ask, and you're faced with a serious personal issue with a legal dimension, that can be incredibly daunting. Being able to provide people with a roadmap to their issue, and to explain the next set of steps they need to take to help the issue on is very rewarding. We don't take on cases for individuals, but even in the limited time you're speaking with someone, you can guide them in resolving the issue they're experiencing, and empower them in the process.
Did you encounter any challenges?
Moving from in-person clinics to phone clinics had its challenges to begin with; people were familiar with bringing documentation etc to us to ask us to talk through it with them, and it took time for everyone to get used to the new way of doing things. However, the extended phone clinics opened up the service to so many more people, and the fact we now have a sense of a person's concerns before they meet with us, means you're that much better prepared to assist.
How do you balance your work responsibilities with your volunteer commitments?
The commitment is limited to one evening a month, unless something comes up and you are asked to step in last minute, or there is a pinch on volunteers and then you might be asked to do a second clinic in the month. The Citizens Information Centres are really well organised, and the clinic dates are arranged usually a month in advance, which means that it's fixed in my schedule for some time in advance. That time is carved out of my schedule, and as far as I can, I try to avoid agreeing to a clinic in a week that I know will be busier than another, and swap into other weeks if possible.
Are there any specific skills that you have developed through your volunteering experience?
The main and most important skill which I've developed through my volunteering experience is the same as I have during my experience as a newly-qualified and junior solicitor. Volunteering has expanded my ability to listen and react to a client/caller's issue in real time, to take in the information they're providing, and process all the important parts so that the advice and information I give them is most relevant to their needs. Volunteering with FLAC has also assisted with my own work which can often involve speaking with people about stressful or vulnerable experiences, and being sensitive to their particular situation and background.
What advice would you give to other staff members who are considering getting involved in volunteering?
Volunteering with a group like FLAC means that the commitment can be as little or as much as you can manage, but it will always be rewarding, and you get out what you put in ten-fold. On a more pressurised or challenging week, I often find that those are the times I am most grateful to have a clinic evening, even if the timing isn't the best. It provides a great sense of perspective, and is a great reminder of the importance and power of the law in people's everyday lives.