Get the Volunteering bug: Interview with ‘Volunteer of the Year’ Siobhan Tatum (Pt 2)

Following on from Part One of Siobhan’s Q & A, here she covers time management, immersing yourself in the community and that all-important finding volunteering openings…

5. It must have been very challenging for you to juggle the BPTC, volunteering and a family – can you share your strategies for managing such weighty commitments?

Yes, therefore organising is essential. At undergraduate my lecturer was very keen on encouraging time management and motivation. So much so that she actually held workshops on these skills. She encouraged us to focus on how we wasted time through procrastination and encouraged us to find a work/life balance. While this seems like a very simple skill to possess, I found the workshops invaluable. These sessions encouraged me to be forward thinking about the best ways to use my time. Subsequently I am now always considering different opportunities that I can take advantage of over the upcoming 12 months. This is important with all of the deadlines that we face on our journey to securing pupillage and tenancy.

I have been using a well organised academic diary for the past three years. I have found the Pearson Student Planner and Academic Diary perfect. It has lots of planning tools to arrange your days, months and even your revision timetables. It has aided me in both being organised and motivated. By constantly planning and recording my commitments and tasks, I am able to ensure that I am not overworked. Nevertheless, time management also keeps me motivated. If I know in advance that I have a few days free during school term time, I am able to arrange extra work or volunteering. I also take advantage of time when traveling by public transport and use this time to read some of my BPTC course material. Sometime I can achieve a lot of reading on the train, when it is quiet. However, I have learnt to make sure that I am not reading material that I will be covering on the same day after a few noisy journeys that made focusing impossible!

While having a family certainly adds to my commitments and decreases the time I have available, it also contributes to my motivation. I am aware from experience that planning to complete tasks last minute is impractical with children as additional responsibilities can arise and children can fall ill when you least expect it. Therefore, I avoid leaving work to the last minute and avoid allowing my workload to build up, while focusing on the motto of ‘tomorrow never comes’.

It is also coincidental that you should accurately suggest that studying while parenting is hard work. Throughout my LLB and BPTC I have been very conscious that employers and members of the profession are likely to make assumptions over my ability to meet their high expectations while also caring for my family, particularly when applying for pupillage and tenancy. This concern has probably been my biggest motivation, as I have determinedly felt the increased need to prove my competence and dedication. This has required me to wok exceptionally hard as I strongly believe that ‘actions speak louder than words’. Nevertheless, I am starting to notice that my hard work is paying off and feel confident that I have proved my ability to work hard and organise myself.

6. How important is it to contribute to the community?

My role as a volunteer is important as most of the people I support are going through a difficult point in their lives. The majority of detainees and youths that I support are vulnerable and feel isolated from society. It is important that they are supported and cared for to a high standard to ensure that society maintains its humanity. I am hopeful that my visits as a volunteer give them hope that their local community has not given up on them and that they can continue to feel part of society when they are released from custody. This is similarly important for clients at pro bono legal advice clinics like the one I volunteer for at Blackfriars Settlement.

I am also hopeful that my volunteering efforts will set a good example to my children. I am optimistic that my efforts will encourage them to care about the vulnerable and to understand that you do not have to be selfish to be successful. Hopefully this will encourage them to become decent individuals with strong morals.

7. What tips would you offer to law students about finding opportunities?

There are various pro bono opportunities available through City Law School and other law course providers. Opportunities at University are a great place to start to build your confidence in working within the community and building various key skills. Different City Law School pro bono projects like the Blackfriars Settlement are a fantastic opportunity if you are limited on the time you have available to make applications, train for the role or volunteer.

However, if you are organised and have time available to apply for projects in the wider community you may find opportunities more tailored to your long term interests that will aid you to stand out. However, as previously mentioned sometimes the recruitment process for volunteers can take a long time due to training and DBS checks etc. Therefore I recommend applying well in advance and do not be deterred if you are unavailable to start for a couple of months as you may find that you cannot start that soon anyway. I did not start volunteering as a Lay Observer until nine months after applying due to security checks, training and identity badges taking time to process. Thankfully for other applicants this time has reduced.

Volunteering with external organisations and charities will provide you with additional opportunities to network and develop a broader range of skills. You will be surprised what skills you will learn that will be relevant to your legal career. For example as a volunteer with Catch22 I attended training on body language and active listening skills. Active listening skills will be important when I join the Bar. They will assist me in establishing whether a client or witness is withholding vital evidence, which will aid me in my questioning techniques. Being self-aware of my own body language will assist me in maintaining my ‘poker face’ throughout a trial, to prevent me from giving away detrimental signals to the jury or appearing unprofessional.

Your volunteering does not have to involve obvious law related tasks. Any volunteering will aid you in standing out and showing off your personality. More and more frequently members of the legal profession say that while legal and academic skills are important they also want someone who has more to them than law. While the skills that you gain when mooting and volunteering at legal advice clinics are important, fellow members of the legal sector are unlikely to ask you about them during social time once you have secured work. They are much more likely to be interested in your experiences during less predictable volunteering roles which will also affirm other qualities in your personality. For example you could consider volunteering with children or the elderly, in first aid, various community projects or as a fundraiser for charities. You will be surprised how non law related opportunities will aid you in developing transferable skills and how often law related scenarios appear in everyday workplaces.

You can find out more about various volunteering opportunities within your chosen field and location by:

Talking to friends and other contacts. You will be surprised what opportunities are available through word of mouth.
Googling specific schemes that you are aware of. For example you may be aware of Victim Support after attending court or your cousin may attend the local community centre.
Attending volunteer fairs including City University’s annual volunteer fair. Organisations attending these events will be student friendly and will accept that your availability is limited. There will be a variety of positions available in both the legal and non-legal sectors.
Signing up on websites such as NVCO, which send out emails on local volunteering opportunities within your area . Opportunities that I have seen advertised on NVCO have included Catch22, Victim Support and positions for trustees of various charities.
Local and National Newspapers. I found out about the opportunity to become an Independent Custody Visitor in my local newspaper. I have also seen positions for voluntary trustees in national newspapers such as The Times.
Searching City University’s volunteering database. Last year they had law related opportunities which included drafting documents for people with Alzheimer’s, to allocate lasting powers of attorney.  They also had other opportunities to support the local community, including volunteering within schools and planting flowers and vegetables.

8. Finally, what is next for you?

I am actually a part-time BPTC student at City Law School so I have just started my second year on the course, with the intention of completing the BPTC in June 2016. I am enthusiastic to complete the dissertation module to obtain a Masters. My final decision will depend on the strength of my employment prospects next summer. I am already very occupied with volunteering and caring for my family so I am waiting until nearer the time before making my final decision. I find that because I am so busy and involved in various schemes, opportunities change very rapidly. I may find that a more unique opportunity becomes available around the same time. I believe that it is important for us to keep our options open and maintain flexibility in order to succeed in a climate that is very competiveness with continuous changes within the legal system. It is also hard to make financial commitments so far ahead when you have children to support. Nevertheless, I am planning on starting pupillage applications in 2016 and hope to practice at the Bar in crime and human rights. I secured a three month paid internship with Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council over the summer.

I am also currently building a blog to share my volunteering experiences and insight into the path to pupillage. It is not updated as regularly as I would like, due to my other commitments but it is beginning to look more how I visualised it. Feel free to visit it at your convenience.

Thanks to Siobhan for this great insight into the life of a ‘super volunteer’. Siobhan tweets as @siobhan8185

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