Law schools report rise in pro bono work as public turn to student-staffed clinics for legal advice

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By Thomas Connelly on

Most popular areas include employment, family and housing

UK law students are dishing out more and more free legal advice under the guidance of qualified lawyers, a new study has found, with the vast majority of law schools predicting further upticks in pro bono support as a result of the government’s cuts to legal aid.

The study undertaken jointly by charity LawWorks and the Clinical Legal Education Organisation (CLEO) found that of the 78 law schools that responded, all but one offered pro bono opportunities for students. Seventy-five percent reported that they plan to extend existing pro bono work opportunities.

Elsewhere, a whopping 90% of law schools reported that their range of free legal support had increased in recent years. The charity’s pro bono report in 2000 found that only 41% of respondent law schools dished out free legal supports, compared with over 64% in 2020.

And law schools predict further pro bono growth in years to come. Ninety precent anticipated seeing increased client demand for their free legal services, in what the study says is “the broader context of unmet need and the ongoing impacts of cuts to legal aid”. It goes on to stress that the “key message here is that student pro bono should not be considered a substitute for properly funded legal aid”.

Researchers found that employment (79%), family (70%) and housing (67%) were the main areas of law covered by law school clinics.

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The study also discovered that the pandemic had strengthened students’ enthusiasm for pro bono volunteering, with many embracing “LegalTech in order to maintain delivery for vulnerable people”. It also found anecdotal evidence that suggested that need for free legal support had been exacerbated by the pandemic, with students and law schools reporting an increase in enquires from clients.

LawWorks chairman, Alasdair Douglas, said: “The pro bono work being carried out by law students across the country is remarkable, and it is clear that these students, with the supervision of qualified lawyers, are playing an ever-more significant role in the delivery of free advice to those in need — particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The willingness of this generation to improve access to justice truly embodies the values embedded in the rule of law.”

Addressing the upcoming changes to the way solicitors are trained, namely the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), Douglas continued:

“As we approach a significant moment for the future of legal education in the roll-out of the SQE, it is evident that law schools and students alike understand the value of pro bono as more than an educational tool. I hope that today’s students will carry their enthusiasm with them through to qualification and onwards to become ambassadors for pro bono in the legal profession.”

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