Junior Lawyer’s Division Project: Expedition 2011

Volume 37, Number 1

by

Brian Karpf is an Assistant Editor of The Affiliate and an Associate with the Weston, Florida, firm of Young, Berman, Karpf & Gonzalez. P.A.

When you think of performing a public service project, what typically comes to mind? Whether your affiliate performs public service projects on a large or small scale, you probably don’t think of leading a group of young lawyers into a developing country for two weeks. But this is exactly what the Junior Lawyers Division of The Law Society (United Kingdom) has done since 2009.

A Public Service Expedition

Each year, members of the Junior Lawyers Division can volunteer to take part in a two-week expedition to a developing country. This is done in joint partnership with Raleigh, a charity based in the United Kingdom focused on youth and sustainable development. Participants travel to remote areas, constructing and implementing various forms of infrastructure or improvements designed to benefit the local population. In 2009, the inaugural year for the program, the Junior Lawyers traveled to Malaysian Borneo where they spent 10 days living in a community and creating a gravity-fed water system. The following year, the Junior Lawyers volunteered in the rural village of Vellery in Tamil Nadu (India), where they spent 10 days working with local community members to construct and install two bio gas plants and cowsheds. While there, they also participated in the local women’s self-help group. In addition to the actual physical project they perform, the Junior Lawyers typically meet and run a workshop with local young lawyers.

This year’s project will take the Junior Lawyers down a familiar path, when 15 members will participate in a two week journey to Malaysian Borneo to construct a gravity-fed water system in a remote rural community.

Preparation
At first blush, one thinks of the risks involved with such a venture. The Junior Lawyers are abundantly prepared for the expedition, however. Each project begins with a “briefing weekend” six weeks before departure. This allows both participants and Raleigh leaders to meet and mingle with one another and begin team building exercises in advance. They thoroughly review medical information, relevant data about the country, and much needed cultural awareness. The Junior Lawyers become familiar with the equipment they will use and engage in one-on-one sessions with their leaders. The group is lodged in a local community, where they interact with community members through shared meals, religious services, and a series of English lessons for both children and adults. They are given the tools needed to help adjust to the local environment and succeed with their plan.

The Junior Lawyers are teamed up with Raleigh, a group that is by no means a novice at such projects. Raleigh has sent over 30,000 volunteers on over 250 expeditions to more than 40 countries since 1984. Raleigh employs permanent staff members overseas that are able to build long-term relationships with local NGO’s, government departments, and local community groups to ensure that the volunteer projects are worthwhile, sustainable, and genuinely wanted and needed by the communities.

Working in the Community

During the expedition, Junior Lawyers and team members live and work alongside the community, providing a challenging yet unique and incomparable opportunity. Of course, this also presents challenges. For instance, the Junior Lawyers must overcome what are often vast cultural and language barriers. Means of communication, of course, affect interaction with the community, but this simply requires members to work that much harder and to operate together as a strong team. Moreover, on arrival in the country, the group commences its activities with a short adjustment period to help them adapt, before commencing the actual project. There are also health concerns to be dealt with, which are met by providing the Junior Lawyers with access to an English speaking doctor, local private hospitals, and comprehensive advance emergency planning.

If the construction of this gravity-fed water system is anything like the one built in 2009, group members certainly have their work cut out for them. During that project, the Junior Lawyers and their teammates first created a cement platform and installed a 1,600 liter (almost 423 gallon) water tank. They then laid piping stretching more than a mile-and-a-half between the tank site and village. Finally, they installed 10 tap stands throughout the village, each requiring a complex network of piping to connect taps to the main pipe, while ensuring that each house was within 45 feet of a fresh water tap. The hard work culminated at a final-day opening ceremony at which a tap was officially blessed and the water turned on. This ceremony included a ritual of sorts, accompanied by dancing and a traditional gong performance.

After completion of the development activity, the team leaves the rural community and heads to the nearest city, where the journey concludes with a workshop involving both members of the JLD community as well as local young lawyers. The goal of this workshop is to bring the group together to work on planning, presentation, and teamwork. Typically, the workshop focuses on current legal “hot topics” in both the local country and in the United Kingdom. This provides all lawyers involved (and other workshop participants) with the opportunity to learn about their respective local legal systems, to exchange ideas, and to discuss the various challenges they face as young lawyers. At times, an open forum debate is involved.

Incomparable Opportunity

Registration for the program is made through Raleigh, which in and of itself presents certain hurdles. Volunteers are expected to pay to participate in the program, the cost of which is £2,750 (which, as of now, equates to almost $4,400). This fee does not include airfare, necessary inoculations, and a required kit that each member must have. Members are permitted to perform fundraising, however, to defray their personal out-of-pocket expenditures. The group assists them with fund-raising ideas. Moreover, Raleigh has preferred travel agencies that offer discounted fares on flights, as well as reasonably priced equipment and pre-set arrangements with inoculation centers. What’s more, 72% of the funds raised by volunteers are used to actually pay for the expeditions and project costs.

Another natural consequence of the expedition (and potential setback) is the time away from the office that the Junior Lawyers are inevitably forced to endure (and which they may need to convince their respective bosses to allow). These journeys are really “time away” as communication back home is limited, to say the least. Junior Lawyers are essentially “checked out” for this period of time. Yet, no doubt, this is no vacation, and the rewards from the experience are reported as educational, immeasurable, and incomparable.

The project aims to provide members the opportunity to develop their practical and employability skills, to grow stronger and wider professional networks, while making a real and positive contribution to the development of disadvantaged communities. The chance to do this—via such concentrated, organized, and precise efforts—squarely provides the means to an end for those who are undoubtedly in need. This, combined with the rather small number of spaces available, puts to rest any perceived “roadblocks” in obtaining volunteers, who embrace the opportunity with open arms.

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