Law students are increasingly becoming attracted to working in the charity sector or pursuing a career with non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
A few years ago, this career may have been perceived as an unappealing option to many for various reasons, such as not being able to offer attractive standard of remuneration, challenging opportunities, growth prospects, the necessity of having to do a research degree to be able to able support causes promoted by charities, and pro bono nature of work. However, with increasing awareness of social issues like migration, environment and health through social media and other platforms, LLM and law students are becoming keen in supporting causes by developing a career in relevant fields.
Charities and NGOs are known to offer unpaid or expenses-only opportunities in the early stages of work experience. This work may involve research, project support, writing, administration or assistance with case work. Law students are able to compete for these roles given their appreciation of social issues studied through courses such as humanitarian law, child law, environmental law, refugee law, public international law, to name a few. The general view is that you should ideally possess a good knowledge and interest in the cause that you wish to support and develop your career in. It may be one thing to show your concern about the conservation of marine wildlife, but another to demonstrate a good level of knowledge and interest in the area. Whilst some students may wait until they have completed research degrees in specialised areas to increase their chances of working in policy making or guiding organisations in advisory capacities, others may start work experience early on to be able to understand the working of charities better.
So, let’s take a look at some of the ways in which law students are able to chart a career in the charity sector:
Universities collaborate with international organisations on research work to enable students to become interested in the area of work and open up potential traineeship opportunities. Some of the leading organisations that do this include: The United Nations; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; UN High Commissioner for Refugees; UN Environment Programme; World Trade Organisation; World Bank; World Health Organisation; International Labour Organisation; International Committee of the Red Cross; OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
Professionals use their acquired skills and expertise in providing mentoring to working charities. They are able to support projects that these charities undertake by providing specific advice to the charity workers on approaching legal issues. Although this work is usually voluntary, some charities may recognise the contributions of the mentors. This area is particularly helpful for students who aim to support charities so that they get opportunities to network with other professionals and increase chances of collaborations.
Students may prefer to use their degrees and research skills combined with their passion to support causes by lending research support to charities. This may be in a personal voluntary capacity or in return for a small remuneration. Charities benefit greatly from such support as they may lack the resources that offer legal advice and guidance. If you are interested, ask your law school administration if there are departments that provide research support to charities. It may add considerable value to your CV.
Although in-house legal opportunities in charities can be competitive, you can aim for them by setting your course in that direction early on. Start networking with staff/alumni who you know work with charities. You may need to gather substantial work experience depending on the nature of the post to be able to confidently say that you can support the work and at the same time be confident in demonstrating passion in the area. A lot of entrants also show prior voluntary work experience/specialised knowledge to increase their chances.
Campaigns & fundraising
Although this may be specific to areas of campaigns and fundraising, it may be a good opportunity to understand more about the work that charities do and to influence their decision making. Usually students who participate in campaigns and awareness activities early on aim for these roles. As a law student, you may need to develop additional skills such as people management, project management, finance assistance, etc. to be able to satisfy requirements for the role.
There are several other ways in getting involved in the work that charities do. Some law students may choose to wait till they have established themselves financially and then get involved in the work of charities that they find their interest drawn to whilst others may want to get a head start early on to be able to support causes that they feel strongly about. It all comes down to your interests, financial circumstances and motivation to set your direction to work in the charity sector.