Emma Dickinson, solicitor at Action for Children, talks about her pro bono work with the Cranfield Trust and HRNet.
What is the name of the scheme which you participate in and what does it entail?
HRNet is a service for charities and voluntary organisations provided by the Cranfield Trust, a charitable management consultancy that offers a variety of free services to voluntary organisations. Charities can become members of HRNet for free and pose questions on employment and HR issues, which are then answered by volunteer panel members, including qualified solicitors like myself.
What benefits do you think the scheme provides to those who receive the services?
Many small to medium sized charities need to comply with employment legislation and manage employment situations but cannot afford to employ or instruct a solicitor. HRNet provides a free resource to enable those charities to access employment advice. As well as providing advice on specific employment questions, the service also offers free employment law updates, guidance on good practice and the opportunity to share similar experiences with other charities and voluntary organisations.
What benefits do you get from participating in the scheme?
I have found the work that I have done for the Cranfield Trust is really rewarding. When I answer a question from a member charity, I often receive a response and feedback so that I can understand how my advice has directly helped that charity and the work that they do. I currently work in-house within the charity sector and helping to advise a wide variety of charities also helps me to develop my awareness of issues that face charities across the sector.
What do you enjoy about the scheme and what do you find challenging about the scheme?
The service delivered by Cranfield Trust is driven by the demands and needs of member charities. This means that I cannot predict what types of questions will be received or how many will be sent to me by the Trust. However, because the Trust has many panel members that it can ask for advice, I am always free to say that I can’t answer a question if, for example, I’m too busy at work. Because of the wide range of member charities and the issues that they face, the questions posed are often challenging but always interesting.
What is the importance for you in doing pro bono work and why would you encourage others to get involved?
Volunteering enables me to advise charities that might otherwise not be able to access legal advice. Becoming a volunteer has helped me to develop an awareness of issues facing the charity sector as well as experience giving advice on a range of employment issues. I first started volunteering for the Cranfield Trust before I started in my current role and the experience that I developed through volunteering helped me to clarify whether I wanted to pursue a role as an in-house solicitor within the charity sector.