CHARITY LAWYER IN THE UK: THE NATURE OF THE JOB
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What is Charity Law?
In the UK (and other countries), it is recognized that there are organizations that are not driven by profit but whose primary objectives are social well-being and philanthropy – these are known as charities or non-profit organizations. Consequently, charity law covers all the rules and regulations relating to the igniting and operation of charities and non-profit organisations
Charity law emerged from the English law of equity. Equitable principles permitted a charitable trust to be established which departed from the usual trust principles of requiring identifiable beneficiaries and having a duration falling within a set period. Charity law restricts such trusts to certain purposes and requires them to be for the public benefit.
The Day-to-Day Tasks of a Charities Lawyer
The work of a Charity lawyer includes advising the not-for-profit and social enterprise sector over a vast area of legal ground, from wills and trusts to commercial and real estate law, to advising on governances and managing charitable statuses and relationships with the Charity Commission, the body overseeing charities in the UK.
The day-to-day tasks will also see a lawyer advise on matters relating to inheritance law, tax and VAT, data protection, employment law, contracts, M&A, partnerships, fundraising, political activities and campaigning, trading, gaming and lotteries.
Charity lawyers are not known for their high pay but still, their pay is higher than the average wage in the UK. The average charity salary in the UK is £30,543 per year or £15.66 per hour. Entry-level positions start at £24,344 per year while most experienced workers make up to £47,478 per year.
If you’re on a training contract with one of the major employers, the pay that you’ll get will be considerably higher than what we have provided.
Hard Skills Necessary to Be Successful
Commercial Awareness: Do not mistake the fact that charities are not run for profit to mean that they don’t need money as much as a normal business. They might need more to function properly. Charities need money to succeed at their chosen causes, and regularly have to compete against one another to get funding. As a charity lawyer, you need to have the commercial acumen to deduce what might affect a charity’s access to necessary funding.
Presentation: You as a lawyer will need the ability to be able to deliver compelling, engaging, informative, transformative, educational and enlightening presentations. You never know if you’ll be part of a team required to raise funds for a charity.
Soft Skills Necessary to Be Successful
If you choose to work as a charity lawyer, some soft skills are essential to possess, it is not enough to have hard skills.
- You should be good at conflict resolution, no matter what charity you work for, it’s likely that you’ll have to deal with people in a difficult or emotionally charged situation. Knowing how to calm tensions and deal with different groups of people in a sensitive way is critical for work in the non-profit sector.
- Teamwork & People Skills: The best charities need law firms (lawyers) that can work with their different personnel to help them channel their funds effectively in all sectors of the business
- Problem-solving: As a charity lawyer you’ll constantly have to deal with roadblocks and obstacles in carrying out your duties; as such you must have the ability to find solutions to these issues.
- Empathy and an interest in the charity sector: These will go a long way to making sure that you can be and stay productive in this sector.
What does the Work Involve?
Apart from giving practical advice on the full spectrum of charity law – from advising on grants to handling the most complex, high profile and sensitive cases, charity lawyers offer extensive support to boards looking to improve their governance or make tough decisions. Their work involves helping their clients with difficult questions around regulation and compliance. Lawyers may also work with their clients to work within the legal framework around developing an ethical investment strategy that benefits not just the client’s bottom line, but their wider positive impact.
Law Firms Specializing in the Sector
Addleshaw Goddard, Ashfords, Baker McKenzie, Bates Wells, BDB Pitmans, Bevan Brittan Birketts, Blake Morgan, Boodle Hatfield, BPE Solicitors, Brabners, Bristows, Burges Salmon, Charles Russell Speechlys, Coffin Mew, Collyer Bristow, Cripps, Devonshires Solicitors and DLA Piper are some of the firms that specialize in charity law
Work-Life Balance in Charities Sector
While lawyers will always be known for the long hours they put in, charity lawyers have it a bit easier than most other types of lawyers. You might even find that on some occasions you’d be heading home by 6 or 7 pm after coming into work by 9 am.
The Life of a Trainee Solicitor
If working with charities is your thing, you’ll find that the work you will get at most of the above-listed firms would be incredibly interesting and demanding. Your day-to-day activities would include drafting letters and emails to clients, attending client meetings, proofreading documents, conducting research, and so on.
Current News in the Sector
Bates Wells is advising Horniman Museum and Gardens on the landmark return of its Benin Bronzes to Nigeria, working with them to secure Charity Commission consent to allow the transfer. The belief is that the decision of Horniman ‘will build momentum for other UK museums and charities to consider making the same call’.
In other news, The Charity Commission, alongside the Welsh Government, launched the Revitalising Trusts programme which aims to unlock up to £12 million of dormant charitable funds in Wales.
Furthermore, The Commission opened a statutory inquiry into the Air Ambulance Foundation UK after it failed to provide evidence showing how certain payments have been made in furtherance of its objectives.
Important Laws to Know
On 24 February 2022, the Charities Bill received Royal Assent becoming the Charities Act 2022. One of the objectives of the Act is to provide for charities to run more efficiently, striking a careful balance between cutting regulations to liberate charity resources and maintaining appropriate regulatory oversight and safeguards.
For example, the Act simplifies the processes for charities to amend their governing documents, including introducing a new statutory power for unincorporated charities to make amendments by resolution. Another example is what the Act has done with failed fundraising appeals. Prior, if a charity fundraiser failed to reach its target, charities usually had to search for and contact donors of small amounts to ask whether they wished their donation to be returned. But now the Act makes it easier for charities to use the proceeds from failed fundraising appeals for other similar charitable purposes.
How Do I Become One?
If you have a law degree, you need to then take the LPC. Once you have completed it, you then need to get a training contract with law firms dealing in this sector. After your contract, you can then become a newly qualified lawyer.
If, however, you have no law degree, you but a degree in a different subject, then you need to take an additional course before the LPC, known as a conversion course (that is, the SQE). This will eventually replace the LPC too.
If you want to work as a barrister, then getting a law degree, before commencing on your BPTC is the way to go. If you have no law degree but a different degree you can still become a barrister that practises charity law; what you need to include is to take the GDL before the BPTC.
Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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