Don’t worry, they’ll be supervised
In the latest example of the weird and wonderful effects of the Legal Services Act (LSA) — which basically deregulates all things legal — a law school has managed to turn itself into a law firm that will be staffed by unqualified students.
Nottingham Law School has achieved this feat after the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) accepted its application to become an Alternative Business Structure (ABS) — which means that it is, under the terms of the LSA, a fully operational law firm.
But rather than force students to combine their studies with billing hapless clients for half-baked legal advice, Nottingham says that its new law firm status will be a kind of study aid to help wannabe lawyers gain top notch experience. And students — who will be supervised by qualified lawyers — will initially focus on providing pro bono rather than paid-for legal advice.
The key areas of law advised on will be housing, property, welfare and employment. But in the future Nottingham hopes to move into advising start-ups on intellectual law at knock-down prices.
Nottingham applied for its ABS license earlier this year, but while waiting for approval its rival, the University of Law (ULaw), somehow managed to gets its own paperwork done quicker and in March bagged the title of first ever law school-law firm.
But ULaw’s set up is different in that it’s focused on providing support for those already training at law firms or businesses which cannot offer a training contract dispute litigation seat. Nottingham, on the other hand, is concentrating on current law students. Its new law firm will essentially be a regular university pro bono advice centre that is supercharged by the fact that it has fully regulated professional status.
How significant being an actual law firm will prove to be remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that Nottingham is taking the pro bono aspect of legal education seriously. Since June 2014, more than 200 of its students have spent 10,000 hours advising 180 clients, and £40,000 has been recovered for clients at tribunals.
Nottingham’s associate dean, Jenny Holloway, said becoming a law firm was designed to “enrich our student and community offering” before predicting:
The teaching law firm will provide outstanding educational opportunities for our students.
Meanwhile, Nottingham’s legal advice centre boss, Nick Johnson, suggested that the experience students get from working in the ABS will boost their job prospects, commenting:
The employment market is highly competitive and, along with academic excellence, graduates need to show that they’ve gained as much experience as possible during their studies. Operating as an ABS will give students at all levels the chance to experience a wide range of legal professional practice. The work will not only cover various areas of law, but will also teach students about issues relating to access to justice.