As a 3rd year law and human rights student, taking the next step to actually enter the legal profession and learn how to apply the law in real life felt like a bit of a daunting mission. Luckily, I got the opportunity to have a law placement at ISCRE, meaning that I would volunteer there for just over 100 hours. This felt like a perfect fit for me as it seemed like a place where I could develop and learn new skills, but also a place where my work and development could benefit others.
As you may know, ISCRE is a non-profit organisation that help individuals in need of legal advice on matters ranging from discrimination, to housing and employment, to mention some. They are currently funded by the Big Lottery Fund, which means that they can pay for staff and supplies, while still providing free legal advice to those that are most in need. They are not exactly a big team, but they work hard and play on each other’s strengths, in order to make ISCRE a charity that has a positive impact on people’s lives, and on the community as a whole. Knowing this, I figured that by volunteering there and developing new skills, I could help the staff by doing day-to-day tasks so they in turn would have more time to help clients. It turns out that this idea had not only occurred to me.
What I soon came to realise was that ISCRE is quite popular with the volunteers. In addition to their regular volunteers, new volunteers, who are eager to learn and help the community where they can, keep popping up. And after having been at ISCRE for just over 100 hours, I must say that I can really see why. You get to work with wonderful and skilled colleagues in an office that has an informal and friendly vibe. The staff are welcoming, you get to take part in interesting and important discussions, and everyone is always happy to help. In fact, I have never seen anyone being turned away here. In a sense, their door is always open, because even if they cannot help you with the issue at hand, they will always try to give you the information you need, or refer you to someone who can help. Additionally, they take the time to care about the client’s wellbeing, and they do whatever they can to help better the client’s whole situation, rather than just seeing a particular legal issue that needs to be sorted. I think what I am trying to say is that when you come to ISCRE for advice, you meet people, with life experiences and personal traits, who care about giving good advice, rather than just employees doing their job until the clock strikes 4pm. The staff and volunteers at ISCRE are driven and motivated people, who see the bigger picture and want to better their community for everyone.
Volunteering at ISCRE has given me a broader understanding of the rights we have as individuals, and the processes entailed in exercising those rights. It has also given me a better understanding of how complex discrimination is, and how difficult it actually is to tackle. By attending client meetings, hearing their stories, and sitting in on the Stop and Search Reference Group, I have come to realise just how internalised and unconscious, discrimination and prejudice can be. Even the nicest and most open-minded people can struggle to meet new individuals without unconsciously adding to them some trait or quality based on for example their gender, ethnicity, religion or even just accent.
The experience at ISCRE has taught me how important it is to look at oneself, and identify and tackle those thoughts and practices that belittle people’s identities into just a disability, religion or race. It has taught me that although we are fortunate enough to live in a part of the world where democracy, equality and liberty are valued, we must continue to think critically and engage in the difficult discussions. That way we develop ourselves and our communities, we better our understanding of one another. I feel very grateful for the fact that my first experience within the legal profession was at ISCRE, because I think that the I will carry the skills I have developed and experiences I have had here with me for the rest of my life.
Nora K Pedersen