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NPBW 2015: Pro Bono Societies – A Student Effort

NPBW 2015: Pro Bono Societies – A Student Effort

In our final article of the week, Liam Lambert explains his involvement in a pro bono project at Durham University and what their clinic is doing to help the community and boost student experience. He also includes some wise words for those who may be considering volunteering at a similar pro bono project.

As part of National Pro Bono Week, I would like to highlight one of many student-run pro bono projects at universities around the country. It is quite fitting that also this week, along with my partners, I am selecting new recruits to join us in carving a pathway for better and more reliable Pro Bono work.

The project that work on is Durham University Pro Bono Society’s newest project, the LawWorks Clinic. It is innovative in its approach to carrying out Pro Bono work by using Skype to put clients online with a lawyer. This enables the client to seek legal advice in real time.

The LawWorks Clinic project was founded last year, and has since been evolving in partnership with Citizens’ Advice County Durham and LawWorks. Its members, through Citizens Advice County Durham, have been assisting a solicitor from a partner law firm in the provision of advice and follow up work via Skype in the area of employment law. The students of the project facilitate this meeting with the client and the legal adviser to provide the local community with specialist legal advice.

How the Project Works

In order for us to advise clients on issues relating to employment, we first need clients! This is where we work closely with Citizens Advice County Durham, who refer any employment matters to us using a documented system that the project established. Through using a mix of online services to both store and send data, the project can organise client meetings, exchange rota information and keep a record of our advice.

Once we have clients that need advice and the appointment is set-up, we need to advise them!

For this, we have teamed up with CLR Law, local employment law specialists providing the necessary  and specialist advice in unfair and constructive dismissal, discrimination and settlement agreements. By having access to such advanced advice, clients can receive answers to their queries instantly, allowing them to begin the next steps on resolving the issue at hand. This is especially significant given the three month  limitation period for employment claims such asdismissal which starts to count down from the date of dismissal.

What’s more, the project provides confirmation of advice letters to capture all of the advice that was given within the session, again enabling the client to continue with their next steps.

Overall, the project set out to assist the County Durham population with employment advice and we are continuing to strive for and fulfil that pro bono objective.

Progress Made

When starting the project, my partners and I were enthusiastic about the opportunities that could arise and the cases that we could be involved with. Once we had secured our partner firm and had begun looking for clients, the paper ideas that we drafted were coming to life. There is a gradual motion of working out kinks and flaws and with each and every case that comes through the project, our team is getting smarter and thus more efficient. It can only improve once our new recruits join us and that is certainly something that I am excited about.

Challenges We Will Face in the Future

One immediate challenge for any project is student involvement. If you do not have committed individuals involved in the project, then there will be no-one to continue the role. That is why movements and reminders such as National Pro Bono Week are so important to the volunteering effort that drives the student run projects. That is why I am looking forward to the project’s recruitment this week, to see the enthusiasm others share for this cause.

A further issue that will rear its head in the future will be maintaining the client and student balance. What I mean by this is, currently as the project is nearing its first birthday there are still kinks and obstacles to be worked out but what must be certain is that the project never has too many clients with too few students or the reverse. By expanding the project this year, we hope to bring more help to those who need it whilst simultaneously encouraging more law students (or non-law in some cases!) to get involved in similar projects.

Inspiring and Entrepreneurial

Having discussed the Project that I am so enthusiastically involved in I want to draw this article to a close by encouraging as many students as possible to become involved with their university’s projects and pro bono societies as you are the lawyers of the future and it is your attitude that will ultimately impact the progress of pro bono work.

The Durham Project that I have mentioned in this article is continuing to grow as we see several enthusiastic students join us later this week. It is inspiring and encouraging to see many students wanting to actively engage in the projects, not only increasing their personal and professional skills but also improving the lives of those around them using their legal understanding.

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