To celebrate the 21st anniversary of Pro Bono Week we spoke to two of the Clinic’s pro-bono Legal Advisors
Pro Bono Week is an annual occasion to recognise and support the work of lawyers across the UK who voluntarily give free legal advice to help those unable to afford it. To celebrate the 21st anniversary of Pro Bono Week, Clinic Co-Ordinator, Julie Piper spoke to two of the Clinic’s pro-bono Legal Advisors – Joanne McDonald and Megan Mahesan.
Both Joanne and Megan volunteered in the Clinic as undergraduate law students. As qualified solicitors, they both returned to the Clinic to give their time as Legal Advisors. The Kent Law Clinic hosts evening advice sessions on different areas of law, during which our Legal Advisors generously volunteer their time to give free legal advice to members of the public.
Joanne McDonald studied Law at the University of Kent and graduated in 2010. She studied for her LPC in London before starting her training contract in 2011, and qualified as a solicitor in 2013. Her area of expertise is family law, and she currently works at Furley Page LLP within their Family Law department.
Megan Mahesan studied Law and Politics at the University of Kent and graduated in 2017. She then studied for her LPC part-time whilst working at a Family Law firm in London. She completed her training contract with Girlings Solicitors, and qualified as a Solicitor in 2021. She continues to work at Girlings Solicitors within their Family Law department.
When did you first get involved with the Kent Law Clinic as a student?
Joanne: I became involved with the Kent Law Clinic in my second year of study. The Law Clinic room was always buzzing with excitement and the lecturer who ran it at the time, Francis Wildman, brought everything to life. It was an exciting opportunity to get my hands on real cases whilst studying and gain knowledge from the law clinic staff and more experienced students.
Megan: I became involved with the Kent Law Clinic in my first year of university. I had worked at a law firm before studying at university, so I knew I was interested in becoming a solicitor. When I heard about the opportunity of attending advice sessions during my first year, I signed up as often as possible. I then became a student coordinator and organised advice sessions during my second and third year.
What was a memorable moment during your time volunteering at the Kent Law Clinic as a student?
Joanne: There are so many memorable moments so it is hard to pick only one – the team spirit is something I will always remember, as well as the desire to make people’s lives better. Sitting in on advice sessions was fascinating for me as I got to see how the law impacts people’s real lives rather than just reading about in on paper.
Megan: There were so many memorable stories and clients, and certainly some which I won’t forget. As I went through some of my university modules – for example Family Law, Employment Law, Land Law, Homelessness Law – I found that the advice sessions relating to each of those legal areas became even more memorable for me.
When did you start volunteering as an advisor for the Kent Law Clinic, and what made you decide to volunteer?
Joanne: I started volunteering for the Kent Law Clinic in or around 2015. I then had some time away before returning in 2022. I wanted to give something back and felt that attending the Law Clinic as a student had really shaped what I decided to specialise in when I qualified as a lawyer. From my time in the Law Clinic, I knew that I wanted to qualify into an area of law which enabled me to have a high level of client interaction on a daily basis.
Megan: As soon as I qualified as a solicitor, I began volunteering as an advisor – it did take me a while to get used to switching roles in the meeting! I think it can be difficult and overwhelming to know what to your next steps should be with so much ‘information and advice’ out there from Google, friends and family. I am always happy help and provide some initial advice to hopefully steer people in the right direction. I also remember how valuable it was for me as a student to sit in on the advice sessions.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering as an advisor for the Kent Law Clinic?
Joanne: I enjoy seeing people leave the session more comfortable and informed than they were when they arrived.
Megan: It is a privilege to hear people’s stories. It is also great to speak with the students, about their ambitions and questions about the profession. I still feel that it was not that long ago that I was in their shoes. I remember how encouraging and inspiring it was to hear the ease with which the Legal Advisors could provide so much advice to a client in 30 minutes. Hopefully I can show students that it is possible to become specialised in an area which you really enjoy.
Why do you think pro bono work – such as our evening advice sessions – is important?
Joanne: The legal system as it stands does not adequately give all members of society the equal opportunity to access justice and good legal advice without it being at a cost which many people cannot afford. Pro bono work is so important as it enables people to access advice which they may have struggled to obtain but for organisations such as the Kent Law Clinic.
Megan: It can be very difficult for people to have access to legal advice. In the Family Law setting, legal aid is extremely limited. People are often in circumstances which they did not choose to be in and need some help navigating a way out.
And finally, what do you think makes Kent Law Clinic unique?
Joanne: The law clinic is unique as it gives students the opportunity to be involved in real cases and sets them on a great path for the future. They have a real grasp of how the issues discussed in the lecture groups affects people on the ground. It also enables the students to have a real sense of social responsibility at the outset of their career.
I believe that the Kent Law Clinic produces lawyers with the grit and determination to help people. My experience at the law clinic helped shape my decision to specialise as a family solicitor, trying to make what is a difficult process for people less painful. Walker Syachalinga – who was also a student volunteer at the Law Clinic in Medway during my time there – now works at a prominent London firm for clients who have suffered human rights abuses and catastrophic injustices at the hands of multinational corporations.
Megan: I think that any service providing pro-bono advice is unique and invaluable in the current climate. From a student perspective, I think the Kent Law Clinic is unique as very few universities offer such a practical legal insight. I know that I benefitted greatly from attending the evening advice sessions, as well as the legal discussion groups that followed up on the sessions.
To see our brilliant Legal Advisors in action, law students can sign up to attend a Monday evening advice sessions through the ‘Kent Law Clinic – How to Get Involved’ Moodle page.