How volunteering helped me believe I could pursue a career that would make a difference

In this blog, Siphesihle Tsabedze discusses the role volunteering played in developing skills and knowledge that went above and beyond her law degree – and how that experience, combined with a very developed sense of justice, has given her the confidence to pursue her goal of becoming a human rights barrister.

My school was in Eswatini and it’s a very socially unequal country.  I was interested in law because of all the social inequality I could see around me. I was very motivated to do something to help people that couldn’t defend themselves against patriarchy and against the classism that determines your life when you are born. I went on to study at a United World College. Its mission is to make the world a better place by breaking down the barriers that stop people from diverse backgrounds seeing how similar they are. With that background, studying law just made sense to me.


What is the Human Rights Law Clinic? What was your role in it?

The University of Bristol’s Human Rights Law Clinic is part of the Law School and is dedicated to researching and supporting human rights NGOs all over the world to do the work that they need to do. Often NGOs are underfunded, and they can’t afford to employ all the people that they need to do research on the ground and to be fact checking and to be collating information. The Human Rights Law Clinic gives students the opportunity to get involved in that process.

The research you do supports NGOs with the work that they need to then inform their litigation strategies and form their reports to official human rights bodies like the UN, like commissions against torture. I was involved in my second year doing research for the Committee on the Prevention Against Torture in Africa. And in my third year, I was a team leader for research supporting an NGO based in the Gambia that litigates on a regional level there, on all sorts of human rights matters, to the African Court of Human and People’s Rights.

What did taking part in the Human Rights Law Clinic mean to you?

Being part of the Human Rights Law Clinic meant everything to me. I learned a lot about the state of human rights and different human rights cultures around the world, particularly East, Southern and West Africa. I feel like I got to do work that was very meaningful in helping organizations do the incredible work that they do that has a real impact on people that need help.

“It was very much beyond the scope of my law degree. I went further than I ever thought I would because of the work I did in the Human Rights Implementation Center. It’s given me a real edge in my job-hunting process and regularly impresses people that interview me.”

Tell us about the other volunteering initiatives you were involved in? How did they also help you pursue your passion for human rights?

I also worked for the Freedom Law Clinic and Lawyers without Borders. The Freedom Law Clinic is a UK organization that offers law students the opportunity to get practical experience of how the law works in criminal cases and appeals. I was involved as a student caseworker with a group of eight other students, and we learned all about the criminal appeals procedure in England and Wales and how you write to the Criminal Cases Review Commission for a life sentence on murder. It was an invaluable experience and it helped me decide what kind of lawyer I wanted to be, what areas of law I wanted to get into.

With the University of Bristol Lawyers Without Borders Student Division I found that, again, I went beyond the scope of what my degree required me to know about human rights. It was a way of always being tapped into this field that I knew I wanted to go into. I met so many like-minded people, so many international students, of course, because of the nature of the organization. And I even made contacts within the organization that will be invaluable to me if I ever decide to apply to them. The one project that stands out was a project in Kenya and Tanzania that helped female victims of gender-based violence escape that situation and get help, get the medical attention that they might need. We did lots of research on what, legally, their options were. What protections do these women have? Can they walk into a lawyer’s office ask for legal aid? What were their rights for asylum, for example.

What do you plan to do now you have finished your degree?

Now that I’m done with my law degree, I intend to do the bar practice course within the next two years. I want to be a human rights and immigration barrister. And so, I’m currently building experience working in that area of law, immigration specifically, building my portfolio of client, facing work with vulnerable clients. And I’m volunteering for refugee council as a refugee integration advisor. I do that five days a week where I take on a few clients and help their paid staff manage their caseload, because the UK has a really, really hostile and overwhelmed system of asylum and refugee law.

“I’m very interested in defending people that don’t have traditional markers of privilege protecting them. I have a very developed sense of justice. I’ve always hated it when things were unfair. And so that really motivated me to get to grips with this whole thing called law.”

Where do you see yourself in 5 / 10 years? 

In five years, I see myself as a barrister who specializes in immigration and human rights. In 10 years, my goodness, I see myself as an expert, perhaps in one of those areas. I’m not quite sure which yet. I’m very open to learning. I’ll probably have more degrees than I do now, and I’ll probably be very happy with the work that I would have done in between now and then.

Find out more

Don’t forget to read the full Volunteering Week blog series to find out more about the options for gaining real-life experiences of law, in social justice and beyond, whilst studying at the Law School. Find out more about our Law Clinic work and careers opportunities on our webpages.

Why I’m passionate about supporting volunteer students delivering justice

Sumayyah Malna is a lecturer in law and solicitor at the University of Bristol Law Clinic. She is also the Law School Director of Employability and co-chair of the Staff BAME Committee. In this blog, created from the transcript of a recent filming session, Sumayyah provides some background on why she decided to choose a career in law, the benefits of pro bono legal work and how this can benefit students learning and the wider community. 

Sumayyah Malna, Lecturer in Law and Law Clinic Solicitor

Why did you choose to pursue a legal career? 

I wanted to go into law to do medical law, because that was specifically what I was interested in. I didn’t want to do corporate/commercial stuff – I was very set on doing the medical side of things. So my experience throughout my training contract and in practice put me in good stead to then move over to the University of Bristol Law Clinic. I have worked with people who have suddenly had their lives upended and they have these huge legal problems, but they don’t have the money and the resources that other companies and organisations have – and public funding isn’t always available.  

What type of legal work have you worked on in the past? 

I’ve worked on the opposite side, working for the NHS Trust in Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), who ran those cases as well – so I’ve seen first-hand that power imbalance. Moving across to the University and working at the Law Clinic, I really wanted to help address that balance by taking on some of the work that I used to do when I was working for NHS Trust and CCGs, by empowering those members of our community with the help of the students and their brilliant work, so that they’re in a better position when they are addressing these legal proceedings. 

I trained at a firm called Irwin Mitchell, where I practiced clinical negligence law. I also worked in public law and human rights, assisting with legal aid claims against state bodies like NHS trusts against CCGs as well. I then qualified and moved over to a firm called Bevan Brittan, where the majority of my caseload was inquest work and court of protection work. This involved advising NHS trust and CCGs in relation to their patients who didn’t have mental capacity to make decisions – and going to court on behalf of our clients, putting forward cases in front of the judge. 

How has this experience shaped your work at the Law Clinic? 

Having worked on both sides of the table, I feel like I’ve got a unique perspective in terms of insight into the power imbalance that appears in courtrooms or among negotiations as well. I’m keen to equip our students with an understanding of the larger context in which the law exists. Looking at power imbalances, looking at our clients in context is people who don’t just exist in a vacuum but exist as a result of their experiences. And what that means for the choices that they’ve made that led them here, but also looking at ourselves as lawyers and the choices that we make and how that impacts the case as a whole. 

What provision is there for clinical legal education in the curriculum? 

I teach on clinical legal studies, which is a third-year optional unit. The unit involves students being part of our Law Clinic and running cases on behalf of our local community, but also taking that one step further and looking at the academic side of clinical legal work. So, looking at our clients in context, what do their experiences mean? How does that shape what the decisions that we make as lawyers? What regulations are in place and why are they in place? What is our justice system all about? Is it an effective justice system? What can we do to make change? What power do our students have in providing pro bono work and further on in their careers in terms of effecting real change?

“One of my favourite things about my job is talking to students who until they start working at the clinic, just presume that the only routes into law are the corporate commercial routes. I just love helping them to see a whole different world in terms of the social justice and human rights work that can be done and showing them that there is real value in these roots as well.”

What can students gain from being part of the Law Clinic? 

Being a part of the Law Clinic is such a wonderful opportunity for our students. Students feel really inspired to actually go into law that has a social justice element to it, so they’ve seen that there’s a different side to law. That’s not just the corporate and commercial side to it in terms of working for big, faceless corporations, but that there’s real value in and working for and acting for individuals who really do value the support that we’re able to give. Whether that’s going to be legal aid work or pro bono work, working for law centres and the like.

It gives them the responsibility that they’re not going to get anywhere else at this stage of their career, directly interviewing their clients and asking questions of their client. The direct contact with the client is quite unusual to get at this stage of their career. 

We have students who have come up against huge law firms and have been to court, have advocated on behalf of their clients. They’ve learned skills in terms of negotiation and drafting documents for particular parties that really are invaluable skills that will serve students well, whether they decide to go into law, or if they decide to do something else entirely. 

Find out more

Don’t forget to read the full Volunteering Week blog series to find out more about the options for gaining real-life experiences of law, in social justice and beyond, whilst studying at the Law School. Find out more about our Law Clinic work and careers opportunities on our webpages.


How being a volunteer in a dynamic university has changed me

For this blog we caught up with Aryan Mandal, who shares his thoughts about being an international student here – and how the culture and spirit of the university, combined with his experience working as a volunteer lawyer, has seen him grow as a human with ambition for the future.

Aryan Mandal

How has your experience at the University of Bristol shaped you?

The University of Bristol is always changing, always evolving – it’s so dynamic in nature. It’s all about new ideas, new cultures, new traditions and it makes you think differently.  It’s made me understand my choices. I’ve had such beautiful courses, such beautiful optional units, it has shaped my future ambition. I’m very thankful to the university for that. It’s all about choosing something which you deserve and choosing something that suits you.  When I came in here, I always thought I wanted to become a barrister in the area of human rights law. But then Bristol changed that completely. I still want to become a barrister, but in the field of commercial law, in the field of arbitration law.

What is the Law Clinic – and how did it help form your future goals?

The University of Bristol Law Clinic provides social service to anyone who needs advice with regard to legal problems, and I think that is what makes University of Bristol stand apart. It helps people solve their legal problems without any costs, and I feel that is what is needed. Free legal aid, helping people, advising people, that is what us volunteer lawyers are. You help that person, you make a difference to that person’s life by your advice, and that person can decide whether or not to take it to litigation or arbitration or mediation and then get resolution out of it. That can make a real difference to their lives

“It’s not always about getting something out of it. It’s not always something about gaining reputation, but it’s about helping people. And that is what a law degree is actually about. It’s about human rights. It’s about how you can help, how you can make a change to another person.”

What cases have you worked on as a volunteer in the Clinic and what have they taught you?

I have undertaken many different cases and been involved in many different activities. From cases involving family law and environmental law to arbitration and mediation. These experiences have got me ready for the legal world. I’m advising clients every month and that gets me ready to go out there as a lawyer after three years and advise clients. The Law Clinic taught me the procedures to do that, and that’s the biggest blessing for me because going out there as a lawyer, you never might know how to advise a client or how to write advise or draft advice. But the Law Clinic prepares you for all of that.

What other activities have helped you build practical skills? 

Offering students the opportunity to get involved with the many different mooting competitions that are available around the world is another way the Law School helps you develop skills for your future career.  My highlight of being here is taking part in the KK Luthra International Moot Court competition as the lead mooter. Mooting generally helps you gain confidence in yourself. It helps you know what it is to stand in that court and argue as counsel for a client, making a difference to that person. It is such an important part the career and employability provision – and there is an array of opportunities that you can get involved in as an international student.  There’s so much to do I have never felt that, well, I’ve come to a different country, what’s going to happen? I’ve never felt that. And that is what is so pleasing to me. 

What advice would you give a student thinking about studying here?

My big bit of advice is just accept your offer. Just accept it and come here because there’s nothing better. There’s nothing better than the University of Bristol Law School. It’s highly ranked. It’s research intensive. It’s top five in UK for research. And they accept you with open arms. They’re so welcoming to international students. You go to the library, you sit among people and they become your best friends. I feel that is what the University of Bristol’s all about. That is what the culture in Bristol is all about. That is what the city is all about.  

Find out more

Don’t forget to read the full Volunteering Week blog series to find out more about the options for gaining real-life experiences of law, in social justice and beyond, whilst studying at the Law School. Find out more about our Law Clinic work and careers opportunities on our webpages.

How volunteering and mentoring has given me focus for my future

Recent MA in Law graduate, Tanzeem Basha spoke to us recently about her experience of choosing to study law, how she found studying in Bristol and the opportunities to gain real-life experiences of law, particularly in the area of social justice. 

Tanzeem Basha graduation

Why did you choose Bristol to study the MA in Law course 

I wanted to study in a world-class university and Bristol was one of the top 10 universities in the UK – that’s why I chose Bristol. I also wanted to study in a place that had it’s roots in law and I couldn’t find a place better than Bristol.  

I didn’t want to do a one-year GDL and I was looking at courses that could offer a well-rounded structure to give me the core legal skills that I required to become a successful lawyer in the future. That’s when I came across the MA in Bristol and Bristol is one of the very few universities that offer this course..  

How did the optional units help shape your degree?  

There are a lot of options available in the MA course. I was quite confused as to what I wanted to choose because I wanted to study everything, but I chose corporate governance in the US and UK. I think that is really helpful for me and for my career because I want to become a commercial lawyer and in a city law firm. They expect you to know some corporate law and I think Bristol has given me that.  

You were able to work in the Freedom Law Clinic during your second year – how did you find this opportunity? 

In the Freedom Law Clinic, we got to advise people who were convicted of serious criminal offences. My client was convicted of murder and we had to find new grounds of appeal, analyse new evidence and make his case stronger when applying to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. That was a really good opportunity for me because I got to do real work and I got hands-on legal experience. 


What mentoring schemes were you involved in and how did they help your career planning?

I participated in the Law School Professional Mentoring scheme in my second year. I had a mentor from a city law firm, in a corporate team, which is the direction I wanted to go into. Over seven months we had one-to-one meetings and he told me where I had to improve, how I had to navigate my career, how to successfully get into a city law firm be it training contract applications or even the slightest doubts that I had he made sure that I understood what I was getting into. Personally, I also got to know what kind of work law firms do, what kind of cases they take up and how I would fit in this whole area – that was really good.

How has studying here shaped your future ambition/what you want to do?

Studying at Bristol has navigated me in the right direction. I knew I wanted to do law but then I was confused – even though I wanted to do commercial law, there’s so many aspects of commercial law that you’d want to go into – and Bristol led me in the right direction by giving me opportunities for example the mentoring scheme taught me what I actually want to do in my future.  

What would you say to someone considering studying law here?

As an international student, I think Law as a subject can be really intimidating and then you’re moving countries, the education system is completely different but I think there’s a lot of support available be it from the academic staff or the Law School Careers Service. There’s always support and I think you should make the most of your time in Bristol – there’s no better place to study law. 

Find out more

Don’t forget to read the full Volunteering Week blog series to find out more about the options for gaining real-life experiences of law, in social justice and beyond, whilst studying at the Law School. Find out more about our Law Clinic work and careers opportunities on our webpages.