Magic circle lawyers trained in pro bono housing law — as busiest London housing court faces closure

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By Thomas Connelly on

More mixed-up thinking from Lord Chancellor Gove


Lawyers at elite City firm Linklaters have teamed up with a leading legal education charity to provide free housing advice, as one of the country’s busiest courts dealing with this issue and other social welfare claims prepares for closure.

Linklaters’ solicitors will work alongside training specialists at Pro Bono Community (PBC) to give gratis legal assistance on housing matters to low-income and vulnerable Londoners.

The City lawyers, who individually volunteered to be a part of PBC’s programme, completed the first of three training programmes earlier this summer.

The training — which covered how to handle matters including possessions, evictions, homelessness and landlord disrepair disputes — is part of a wider pro bono initiative that also involves fellow magic circle outfits Clifford Chance and Freshfields. But Links are taking the lead on social housing advice.

Details of how the pro bono scheme will be delivered have not yet been confirmed, but those facing eviction and homelessness will no doubt sleep a little easier knowing some of the finest legal minds in the country could end up dealing with their cases free of charge.

Owen Clay, Linklaters global pro bono partner, told Legal Cheek:

Access to justice is at the very heart of our pro bono practice. This collaboration is all about encouraging and equipping more of our lawyers to volunteer in housing law — an area outside their day-to-day expertise. The need for advice from those on low-incomes on important issues such as disrepair is very high. I’m pleased to report that we have been able scale up the programme through this partnership.

In his first address to the legal profession earlier this summer, Justice Secretary Michael Gove told wealthy City lawyers that they need to “look into their consciences” and provide more free work in a justice system they have “done very well” in. Let’s just hope Links’ lawyers — who take home £68,500 at newly qualified level in return for a professional life that sees them work often very long hours — have time to represent their pro bono clients.

With City firms doing their bit to promote access to justice, Gove seems focused on doing just the opposite. It appears that Lambeth County Court is one of ten in the City earmarked for the chop despite the legal profession voicing its concerns over the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) planned court closures.

The court — which is one of the country’s busiest when it comes to housing possession claims and evictions — will be shut as part of the MoJ’s ‘Estate Reform Programme,’ which proposes the closure of more than 90 courts across England and Wales.

The court’s workload is set to be moved to Wandsworth County Court in south west London, leaving those who would attend proceedings at Lambeth facing longer journey times, and putting a greater strain on resources at already busy Wandsworth.

Despite government suggestions that court users will only be marginally effected, those in South London may face travel times in excess three hours, if commuting by bus.

So the sad irony — which will already be apparent to many in the legal profession — is that as Gove urges City lawyers to do more to promote access to justice, any upsides to schemes such as Linklaters’ PBC tie-up will probably be hampered by the MoJ’s court closure plan.