NLS Legal Advice Centre: Working towards access to just...
NLS Legal Advice Centre: Working towards access to justice for all
Over the summer, Nottingham Law School’s Legal Advice Centre signed up to the Law Society’s Pro Bono Charter (www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/practice-management/pro-bono/pro-bono-charter), and in doing so became the first University-based signatory. By becoming a signatory to the Charter, the Legal Advice Centre has reaffirmed its commitment to improving access to justice for individuals and organisations across Nottinghamshire and beyond.
The Legal Advice Centre operates as a ‘teaching law firm’, having been granted Alternative Business Structure (‘ABS’) status by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in 2015. The ABS status allows the Centre to operate in a manner akin to a teaching hospital. Nottingham Law School students, at all levels, have the opportunity to gain experience of professional practice in a similar way to how medical students do whilst studying.
By operating under an ABS, the Legal Advice Centre has expanded and moved into new areas of law. For instance, earlier in 2017, the Centre launched a Business and Enterprise Law Service to provide free and/or affordable legal advice to small businesses, entrepreneurs and charities. Supervising solicitors guide law students in giving advice on a range of topics, such as choosing the right business structure; understanding how to comply with employment law; protecting intellectual property rights; and putting in place appropriate terms and conditions to manage customers’ expectations and rights.
A series of public legal education events have been held throughout the year to help for-profit and not-for-profit businesses and enterprises better understand their legal rights and obligations.
The Centre is also in the early stages of developing a specialist ‘Autism Law Service’. Volunteers in the Centre often work with vulnerable individuals, from clients with severe disabilities challenging their welfare benefits entitlement with the support of the Free Representation Unit, to prisoners hoping to appeal their convictions through the Miscarriages of Justice Project. The idea for the Autism Law Service arose out of the need to provide bespoke support to cater to the specific vulnerabilities of this particular client group.
In many senses, the Service encapsulates the Centre’s commitment to improving Access to Justice. People with autism may need help with fully articulating their wishes and needs, or with processing information and understanding exactly what is being asked of them. In a very literal sense, many within the autistic community struggle to access legal advice because of their communication difficulties.
So, as a provider of legal services, we need to ask ourselves: how can we adapt our approach? How can we tailor our interviewing techniques? How can we best elicit the information that we need from our clients?
By committing to the Pro Bono Charter, we have further demonstrated a commitment to collaborate, share and exchange on procedure and best practice with the rest of the local and national legal community. This is done with a recognition that pooled resources and experience can only improve access to justice for communities across the East Midlands, and across the country.
Nick Johnson, Centre Director said “Signing the charter makes perfect sense for us as a legal advice service. The vast majority of our work is undertaken pro bono. We have always sought to provide our clients with the best possible service which fits with the Charter’s aim of ensuring we achieve best practice in our work. The Centre’s position as a University law practice, committed to developing and evaluating new methods of achieving access to justice also fits with the charter’s objective of developing and disseminating best practice in pro bono work”.
The Legal Advice Centre received the LawWorks Award for Best Contribution by a Law School and the Access to Justice Foundation Award 2016. It was also nominated for a Law Society award for Excellence in Pro Bono in 2016 and senior supervising solicitor, Faye Deverell, has recently been named Solicitor of the Year by the Nottinghamshire Law Society. Nottingham Law School was named Legal Education Provider of the Year in the Solicitor’s Journal Awards 2016.
About the author
NTU Law Sandwich student currently on placement at the NLS Legal Advice Centre.