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Bristol corporate law firms club together to pay for a legal aid trainee

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Michael Gove is going to love this

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The four largest commercial firms in Bristol have clubbed together to part-fund the £37,500 annual cost of a legal aid training contract at the Avon & Bristol Law Centre (ABLC).

In a move that will thrill Lord Chancellor Michael Gove — who wants to tax corporate law firms and use the money for legal aidOsborne Clarke, Burges Salmon, DAC Beachcroft, and TLT have combined with charity the Legal Education Foundation to sponsor the annual cost of funding a social welfare trainee.

The trainee is set to begin employment at the ABLC next month, providing legal advice to Bristol and South West residents who would otherwise be financially barred from accessing justice.

The centre — which depends on the volunteering efforts of local law students — hit the headlines in early September when it emerged that volunteers had successfully appealed 95% of the Department of Work and Pensions “fit for work” decisions assigned to them.

The four firms and the foundation will now foot the £37,500 per year training contract bill, which will cover the trainee’s salary, supervision, project costs, a laptop, and general costs for the advice centre.

Simon Beswick, CEO at Osborne Clarke (OC), explained the rationale behind the move:

Avon & Bristol Law Centre provides an indispensable service to the South West community. We’re proud to support the funding of its traineeship for one special candidate, particularly during this uncertain time for legal aid.

OC and the other three firms, plus other leading outfits in the area like Bond Dickinson, have lent a helping hand to the centre through pro bono work, but with more and more people reaching out for legal advice, the centre is under increasing demand. Clare Carter, director of ABLC, explains:

Demand for our services is increasing at a time when resources are reducing as a result of public sector cuts, leading us to turn more and more to the private sector for support.

On the recent sponsorship, she continues:

I discussed ways of getting the private sector involved with TLEF [The Legal Education Foundation] and Osborne Clarke, and they agreed that it made sense to get a group of firms together, via TLEF’s Justice First Fellowship Scheme, to split contributions to the £37,500 a year cost of a trainee.

Carter hopes that having the Bristol commercial law firms on board in this way will lead to more sustainable funding from the private sector, with the possibility of other firms and chambers lending support in the future.