Are law students the new legal aid lawyers?
BPP University’s London pro bono legal advice clinic has been awarded the Advice Quality Standard (AQS) — strengthening the position of these student-staffed organisations in the legal market.
The AQS is the quality mark for independent advice organisations in the voluntary sector, and the BPP London Legal Advice Clinic (BLAC) is only the second in the country to be given this renowned standard. HKC Law Clinic at Sheffield Hallam University got the first. Expect more law schools to follow.
An external audit process determined that the clinic met the AQS requirements because of, for example, its family and housing client information forms — which were described by Neil Huxtable, AQS auditor, as “particularly impressive”.
These two areas of law are among the most hard hit by the legal aid cuts, which aim to slash £350 million from the £2.1 billion legal aid budget.
Lord Chancellor Gove’s masterplan is to have City lawyers pick up the slack in these areas, but currently it’s poor old students who seem to be mucking in the most. Litigant-in-person charity the Personal Support Unit says that it is largely wannabe solicitors and barristers who have helped it meet an incredible 900% rise in client demand since 2008.
Indeed, such is the potential seen in students to fill the legal aid gap that Nottingham Law School has created a “teaching law firm” that will be staffed by students.
Tony Martin, supervising solicitor at BLAC, reflected on the situation:
The restrictions in legal aid and the cuts in advice services generally have led to an increase in demand for pro bono advice, as many litigants in person struggle with the court and tribunal system.
Unsurprisingly, the demand for BLAC’s services is increasing. Clients are flocking to the centre for advice — the volunteers dealt with 298 telephone enquiries from the public in 2015: 202 about housing, 96 about family.
Clients who contacted the centre were given written advice, and some housing clients were offered representation in mediation and in court.
To students considering doing pro bono work, Evgenia Kabanova, LPC student and BLAC volunteer, says go for it:
The knowledge I have gained whilst volunteering for BLAC is invaluable and I would strongly encourage every BPP University Law School student to sign up for the clinic, however challenging it may sound, as it will also supplement your learning and put theory into practical context.