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City Law School terminates agreement with pro bono scheme that makes students pay to plug the legal aid gap

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Issues involving the professional indemnity insurance of award-nominated programme cited as reason for ending partnership

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City Law School has parted ways with a pro bono scheme that Legal Cheek revealed earlier this summer was charging students almost £400 in training fees.

The duty advice scheme (DAS) — operated by No.53 Legal Limited — offers aspiring barristers the opportunity to hone their advocacy skills, representing clients on a pro bono basis in matters concerning possession proceedings, mortgages and secured loans.

Legal Cheek can now reveal that City Law School has terminated an agreement with No.53 Legal Limited after the company failed to satisfy the law school’s concerns that the appropriate professional indemnity insurance was in place.

The move, which took place earlier this month, comes in spite of No.53 Legal’s website clearly stating on its ‘who we are’ page that it has “PII for its business activities”. No.53 Legal is disputing City’s termination of the deal.

An internal City Law School email — that Legal Cheek has seen — was sent to all students currently enrolled on the university’s Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Confirming the termination with “immediate effect”, the email failed to elaborate on why the decision had been taken, leaving a number of students who had either volunteered — or were about to — concerned.

No.53 Legal — that was shortlisted for a Law Society Excellence Award back in 2012 — is currently encouraging law students to apply for “January starts” on its recruitment page. This has contributed to the confusion among City students.

Notwithstanding some aspiring lawyers having to fork out almost £400 to take part in the scheme, City Law School has previously defended its association with the company, pointing out that advocacy training is expensive and that it had negotiated a “special discounted rate for our students”.

This week a spokesperson told Legal Cheek:

Consistent with the agreement between the City Law School (CLS) and No.53 Legal Limited, there was an expectation from CLS that No.53 Legal Limited would provide Professional Indemnity (PI) cover for our student volunteers. We have recently requested No.53 Legal Limited to confirm that they have PI cover for the volunteers. As this has not been provided, CLS has had no alternative but to terminate the agreement.

No.53 Legal has since issued a strong rebuttal by way of its website’s recruitment page. Claiming that it was City Law School which breached the agreement, the lengthy post (screenshotted below) claims that any statement made by the law school suggesting otherwise is “plainly wrong”.

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In light of the website update, a spokesperson for City Law School issued this further statement:

The City Law School will dispute any allegation of a breach. Indeed No.53 Legal Limited is in breach of the agreement with the City Law School. We have taken action to protect our students.

Director and DAS Coordinator at No.53 Legal, Lea Christiaanson, vehemently denied the allegations but declined to issue a formal comment.

Previously:

The award-nominated pro bono scheme that makes students pay to plug the legal aid gap [Legal Cheek]