Learning on the job: students may soon have their own f...
Learning on the job: students may soon have their own firm to give legal help in a real-life setting
Nottingham Law School is hoping to turn its Legal Advice Centre into a teaching law firm so that students can gain experience of professional practice, including fee earning, in the same way that medical students do at teaching hospitals.
The law school, part of Nottingham Trent University, has applied to the Solicitors Regulation Authority for an Alternative Business Structure licence for its newly expanded Legal Advice Centre. About 200 students take part in the centre’s work, which this academic year is set to take on more than 180 pro bono cases, involving employment, housing, business and intellectual property issues.
Alongside advantages such as the option to charge fees, an ABS licence will, according to the law school’s associate dean Jenny Holloway, future-proof the advice centre against any change to the current exemption that allows pro bono organisations to undertake reserved activities.
The pro bono elements of the centre’s work will stay the same, she insists. “But we like the idea of expanding into IP [intellectual property] and entrepreneurial business law advice and there is potential to charge a below-market-rate fixed fee for business start-ups that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. It’s a model we’ve seen work well in the US.”
The centre’s director Nick Johnson says that they are also looking at the SRA’s training regulations to see if the work the students do can be captured as part of any future portfolio of experience. The prospect of working in a fully regulated organisation as an integral part of their law school studies is exciting students.
Anna Clarkson, 30, is doing her graduate diploma in law after working with a homeless charity, which made her realise that she could do a better job for clients if she became a solicitor. “The centre already gives you a fantastic opportunity to build client skills and manage files,” she says. “But if you can also experience fee earning, it’ll be as close as you can get to real life as a solicitor which will be amazing because it’s not easy getting work experience.”
The University of Law was the first university to gain an ABS licence so its Legal Advice Centre’s litigation clinic is authorised to undertake “reserved legal activities”. Emma Douglas, the centre’s supervising solicitor, says that this will benefit trainee solicitors training in a law firm or in house who need dispute resolution experience because they will be able to take part in “real-life cases rather than textbook simulations”. They do not plan to charge fees for the work.
Other law schools decided against the ABS option. Professor Julie Price, head of the Pro Bono Unit at Cardiff Law School, says the mood at a recent conference was “generally cautious so I don’t think there will be a glut of applications from universities any time soon.”
Professor John Fitzpatrick is director of Kent Law School’s advice clinic, where charitable donations have enabled work to start on a £5 million building for the clinic’s offices and mooting chamber. It has also
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