The build-up to Christmas is not a festive time for everyone.

For people living in extreme conditions of hardship, or under the threat of physical abuse, the neon-fuelled glow of the shops hold little promise.

Some of us relieve our consciences by giving a little more generously to the vagrants on the street, but there are solicitors who donate something far more valuable than the cost of a can of Special Brew lager -- their time.Russell Campbell is a solicitor in the legal services department of the housing charity Shelter.

He describes his work as 'challenging and rewarding' in terms of being a lawyer because it provides opportunities to shape public law and legislation through Shelter's intense lobbying efforts.

However, Mr Campbell says that in addition to this, there is the satisfaction of doing something important.Graduating in law from Balliol College, Oxford, Mr Campbell found the decision not to follow many of his contemporaries into City firms an easy one.'Balliol was a pretty left-wing college and I had left-wing leanings so it was not difficult to decide which area of law I wanted to work in,' he says.He joined Grays Inn firm Bindman & Partners as an articled clerk in 1982.

After qualifying, he spent a year globe-trotting before going to work for the Camden Law Centre, where he remained until 1990.

Mr Campbell then joined the National Housing Law Service, a litigation and training services provider, which was taken over by Shelter in 1993.

He says this experience shaped his professional career to the extent that he knew he wanted to work on local issues and this meant becoming a specialist in public and housing law.Money is not the motivating force in working for a charity, but Mr Campbell says that by the time someone gets married and has a family the gap in salaries compared to private practice becomes noticeable.

'Even compared to a le gal aid lawyer, the average salary if £10,000 to £15,000 less for someone with my experience,' he says.Nevertheless, he finds the work 'stimulating, creative and very exacting' and says that in the future, voluntary sector salaries may well rise to attract younger lawyers.

'In the 70s there was a residue of young radical lawyers but this pool has shrunk because of the shift in the political spectrum over the past decade and a half,' he adds.Although working in private practice, Sean Egan, a senior associate with London firm Harbottle & Lewis, spends a significant amount of his time working for charities as clients.

One of his most high profile clients is the Terence Higgins Trust -- a charity which supports AIDS victims and medical research.Mr Egan trained with Clifford Chance and joined Harbottle & Lewis in 1988 primarily to do film and television-related contract and copyright work.

He became involved with charities because of the connection between the entertainment industry and charitable fundraising.He says that although his firm does charge for some of the work, it is sensitive to the issue of cost and much of the work is done for no charge.

Much of this can cross over into the film and television world.

For example, money raised from the recent charity premier of the film Wilde went to the Terence Higgins Trust and Mr Egan was closely involved with that.

'I have been fortunate to do a lot of my work in an interesting area for particularly worthwhile cause,' he says.Voluntary work on a different scale was performed by former Slaughter and May solicitor Graham Rounce, who spent a year working for Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in Tuvalu, near Indonesia.

Mr Rounce made the decision to give up life in the fast lane after a chance encounter with someone who told him the VSO was interested in finding solicitors for a programme it ran.

Having gone from university into law school and then into articles in the City, Mr Rounce wanted to see some of the world.

While at Slaughters he had regularly spent an evening a week working at North Islington Law Centre and he was keen to use his legal skills in a voluntary role abroad.'I had the very grant title of the people's lawyer of Tuvalu and most of my time was spent giving advice to the general public who otherwise had no access to legal representation,' he says.

The free service is funded by the government of Tuvalu with help from overseas development agencies.

The main areas of work he was involved in were criminal, land dispute resolution, civil disputes, family and some business formation.

'I did a murder trial which was quite exciting and something I had no experience of, and at one stage a Japanese fishing boat was commandeered for which I had to try and negotiate a settlement.'Mr Rounce, who was born in South Africa but moved to England while still a child, says he was extremely glad to have spent the year in Tuvalu.

Although his income dropped considerably as a result of the move this was not noticeable on the island state because living costs were low.

'The lifestyle took some getting used to,' he says.

'The pace is very slow and there is not much going on.

I wore shorts to work and did a lot of fishing and swimming.' Since returning to London last April, Mr Rounce has been working for a firm in South Kensington and has also acted as an adviser to other volunteers considering going abroad.