Community engagement takes many forms. As part of a legal career involvement with pro bono work or initiatives that improve access to justice are obvious ways to support local communities. However, there are numerous opportunities to make a positive contribution to society that do not involve direct use of your legal knowledge but are an effective way of developing transferable skills that are invaluable to your career.

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to attend and speak at a network event of the Leadership Foundation for Women Lawyers hosted by the University of Edinburgh Law School entitled ‘Extending Your Experience: Building Your Career Through Community Engagement’.

I was one of a few former Diploma students to speak about their involvement with the University’s Free Legal Advice Centre and how this has influenced our careers so far. We were also encouraged to discuss our more general thoughts on what ‘community engagement’ means to an early stage trainee and why it is an important part of your career.

The event

The event itself was both interesting and interactive. Lesley McAra, Chair of Penology and Assistant Principal Community Relations at the University of Edinburgh, opened the event by discussing some of the University’s flagship projects which seek practical ways to develop student skills and leadership whilst making a meaningful and long-term difference within the community.

We then heard from a number of distinguished members of the Foundation, including Joanna Cherry QC MP. Each of these women offered a unique perspective on the various forms of voluntary and community work they have been involved in throughout their careers. As well as being fascinated by the sheer range of activities and projects these women had been involved with, it was perhaps even more interesting to hear their views on why engaging with the wider community is so valuable.

What advice did the speakers offer?

     1. Go our of your comfort zone

Voluntary work does not have to involve using your legal skills and knowledge. There are countless opportunities to make a real difference that are unrelated to the law, but rather help you build transferable life skills and offer you a completely different perspective on particular societal issues.

      2. Community engagement should not just be about boosting your CV

A number of the speakers are, or have been, directly involved in the trainee recruitment process for the organisations they work for. Their clear message was that from an employer’s perspective, it is vital that candidates show a genuine interest and commitment to the activities they engage in rather than seeing their involvement as a ‘tick-box’ exercise.

Brodies and community engagement

The evening was rounded off by a table discussion where we were asked to discuss questions such as ‘What could I/my firm do differently to develop outreach and engagement and what skills do I need to make this happen?’

As an early stage trainee it was great to be able to discuss the numerous ways in which Brodies makes a positive contribution to the local community.

Fundraising events and charitable activities – a number of firm-wide fund-raising events take place throughout the year for our charity partner, Maggie’s. Our staff also take part in a range of other (often very energetic) charitable activities, for example, the annual Ride the North challenge, the RSABI Great Glen Challenge and Maggie’s culture crawl. Most recently, a team from Brodies took part in Sleep in the Park.

PRIME initiative – I was particularly proud to talk about how Brodies engages with young people from less privileged backgrounds through the PRIME initiative in an attempt to improve access to and diversity within the legal profession. You can read more about Brodies’ involvement with PRIME here and you can read recent blogs from our PRIME students here and here.

Trainee opportunities – as a Brodies trainee you also have the opportunity to help with career insight days, which involves running mock court cases and leading workshops. A number of trainees and solicitors within the firm also provide mentoring to high school pupils which is a really rewarding way to get involved and support young people. In short, there are numerous ways to make a positive impact as part of a career with Brodies.

So why get involved with the community?

When asked about the skills they had gained through their voluntary work (whether work-related or otherwise), the overwhelming response by the speakers was that their experiences had given them a real confidence boost.

As well as positively contributing to society, engaging with the community is an invaluable opportunity to develop transferable skills, for example leadership, time-management and the ability to communicate effectively with a diverse range of people.

In short, not only is community engagement beneficial to local communities, it can be incredibly rewarding and provides an opportunity to build real life skills. If you are a person who enjoys an athletic challenge or then there are also a number of opportunities to make a difference whilst keeping fit and healthy.

It is definitely not just a way to enhance your CV!