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Strathclyde, Huddersfield, Greenwich and BPP are best unis for pro bono

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Attorney General Student Pro Bono Awards 2015 winners announced

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It’s not easy to assess which pro bono projects are better than others, and doubtless some universities which missed out on the prizes at this year’s LawWorks & Attorney General Student Pro Bono Awards will be cursing their luck.

What is certain, though, is that the four winners of the respected annual competition are really good projects that are much-needed at a time of ongoing assault to legal aid. So well done to the students at Strathclyde, Huddersfield, Greenwich and BPP who claimed this year’s gongs — presented yesterday by Chris Grayling minion Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC.

Strathclyde University won ‘best contribution by a law school’ for its law clinic, which has long had a reputation as one of the country’s finest. It was praised for, amongst other things, its collaboration with Refugee Survival Test and Rape Crisis Scotland, and its online advice service for those who cannot travel to the clinic or wait for an appointment.

Huddersfield University scooped ‘best contribution by a team of students’ for its very popular student-led advice clinic. Since September last year, the clinic has assisted a total of 150 clients through appointments and drop-in sessions. The run-up to winter was especially busy, with the students clocking up a whopping 935 pro bono hours between September and the end of the year.

Greenwich University, meanwhile, bagged ‘best new student pro bono activity’ for its new law clinic. Having only opened a in March 2014, it has already seen 150 out of Greenwich’s 350 train and take part in pro bono work.

Helen Ingram, a student at BPP Law School, netted ‘best contribution by an individual student’. Not only has Ingram interned with on a joint venture between BPP Pro Bono Centre and the Anti-Trafficking Legal Project, but she has led a service which provides free translating and interpreting services to NGOs, and volunteered four-hours-a-month for a free employment advice helpline.

The awards come amid an increase in law students doing pro bono, with LawWorks estimating that at least 70% of all law schools in the UK are involved in pro bono projects — up from 46% in 2006. The government has previously expressed hope that this uptick will help fill the growing legal aid gap, but as the reality of the cuts start to bite even Grayling and pals seem to have come to accept that student pro bono is a welcome additional contribution rather than a fix to the system.

Certainly that seemed to be the subtext of the Attorney General Wright’s rather bland comment yesterday as he expressed hope that pro bono will remain “a force for good”.

“All students nominated across the four categories have demonstrated a tremendous amount of skill, initiative and selflessness of spirit which I hope will help keep pro bono a force for good in the future of the legal profession in the UK,“ said Wright, who is a tenant at Birmingham’s No5 Chambers, as he presented the awards.