Law graduate uses volunteer experience to gain legal firm role

4 June, 2021

Christie, a law graduate, describes how the skills and experience she has gained as a Victim Support Scotland volunteer helped her future career aspirations in the criminal justice sector.

I’ve recently finished my degrees in Scots Law LLB and the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice, at the University of Glasgow. I’ve successfully gained a traineeship with Digby Brown due to start next year and in the meantime, I am hoping to secure in a role such as an officer for the Public Guardian, specialising in areas including registering powers of attorney, maintaining the public register and dealing with investigations.

Supporting people through the criminal justice process

I volunteer with Victim Support Scotland (VSS) at Falkirk Sheriff Court, helping vulnerable witnesses, facilitating court familiarisation visits and assisting with remote court access such as CCTV witness links to the courts.

Given the gap between the end of my studies and the start of my career with Digby Brown, I have a fair amount of free time and can dedicate two days to court work and also some community support calls from home where I can run victims of crime through the court and trial process.

A long-term passion for volunteering

I’ve volunteered for a long time as part of Girlguiding Scotland – 11-12 years – so know the benefits of volunteering from both sides. I had a particular interest in a volunteering experience which would tie in with my career aspirations and VSS seemed a great fit.

Originally, I was interviewed in Stirling. The initial interview was informal and I was asked about my interest in volunteering in victim support and how my values aligned with those of VSS. Then in December 2020 I started to volunteer at Falkirk Sheriff Court, shadowing witness services and finding out what was involved in the court process, which was daunting but interesting at the same time.

Most of the cases I’m involved in are related to domestic abuse which can be difficult and draining. Other cases include sexual crimes and it’s at this point that training comes into play and we, as volunteers, are better equipped to deal with the emotional aspects of our role as volunteers.

The impact of Covid-19

With the pandemic, the changes to court dates have caused huge frustration for victims of crime.  Some people have had trouble getting in touch with court contacts and there is huge anxiety for many about forgetting details of crimes due to delays. This affects people’s ability to move forward from crimes and can be re-traumatising.

An education in the criminal justice sector beyond my studies

I was an effective communicator before my involvement with VSS which benefitted me a great deal when joining as a volunteer. However, throughout my time at VSS, I have developed so many more skills.

Dealing with high-pressure, emotive situations is something I’ve had to deal with as part of the role. Learning how to behave not just with victims of crimes but family members, friends, neighbours and others associated with the crime can be difficult. I’ve learnt to be more empathetic and how to deal with unpredictability, managing highly charged emotional scenarios and helping to ground people who are anxious and distressed by crime. I’m also more confident now. All these skills are transferrable to other areas of life and work and are invaluable.

As a student in my field, these skills are invaluable. I don’t think I would have been able to get my upcoming role at Digby Brown without having volunteered at VSS. It’s given me an opportunity to see things from a different perspective, that of victim and witnesses.  I’ve broadened my knowledge of the criminal justice sector and met interesting people and gained personal satisfaction from my role.

Above all else, I enjoy the experience of people saying to me “you really helped me, I couldn’t have done this without you”. While it can take a lot out of you, having someone say you’ve made this process easier for me is very rewarding.

Victim Support Scotland is recruiting for support volunteers across the country. To find out more about our volunteering opportunities and application process, visit our volunteering pages