Law students from the University of East Anglia will be sharing their legal expertise for free thanks to a new partnership with Norfolk Community Law Service (NCLS).
The partnership will see more than 35 student volunteers offering legal advice and representation and follows a successful pilot scheme which ran last year. The university will also provide financial assistance to the service to the tune of £25,000 a year.
The announcement comes at a time when cuts to legal aid could make seeking legal advice unaffordable for many people.
As well as benefitting service users, the scheme will offer student volunteers the chance to gain vital ‘real world’ skills and experience.
UEA’s school of Law
has enjoyed a strong relationship with the NCLS
for the past decade and the new arrangement puts this on a more formal basis. The partnership will be cemented at the NCLS annual general meeting on July 18.
Senior law lecturer Gareth Thomas, who is responsible for student volunteering (or ‘pro bono’ work), said: “I am delighted that we are able to consolidate our links with NCLS both by providing it with financial support and with a regular supply of enthusiastic and very able student volunteers.
“Our students will help deliver a twice-weekly free legal advice service, and will also assist with NCLS’s specialist advice services in areas such as discrimination, domestic abuse, rent arrears and immigration. This work takes place alongside a wide range of other voluntary activities, which we intend to bring together next year under one umbrella when we establish our own UEA Law Clinic.
“Pro bono work gives our students a wonderful opportunity to deepen their understanding of the law by seeing it in action and being able to reflect on what they have seen, so it enriches their education while also enhancing their career prospects. At the same time, they gain a real sense of satisfaction from providing much-needed legal advice to real clients, under the supervision of solicitors.”
NCLS chief executive Ros Brown said: “We are delighted to be able to provide increased opportunities for UEA Law students to obtain hands on experience to complement their academic learning.
“As well as benefitting the students, the scheme has enabled us to expand and improve all our services and provide a more holistic service for our clients – the student volunteers provide support for the solicitors as required including making appointments, taking notes of meetings with clients, undertaking follow up research, filling in forms, drafting letters to clients and making appointments with other agencies where appropriate.
“We are very grateful to UEA for agreeing to provide funding towards our costs of recruiting, training and supervising the students.”
Naomi Newell, who has just completed the second year of her law degree, says she has found the experience invaluable.
She said: “I began volunteering with NCLS in May last year and the experience has been incredibly positive. The work has involved supporting solicitors, going into meetings with clients, hearing real-life stories, writing up case notes, and seeing how solicitors deal with their clients.
“I have also worked as an ambassador representing and publicising NCLS at events such as their domestic abuse conference. It’s important work and I enjoy the responsibility.
“The experience has formed the foundations for my own professional development and it is already opening doors for me. I now have the confidence and skills to be able to step into a job and know that I will do it well. The experience has been vital for my CV and it has helped me gain full-time paid employment over the summer with a solicitors’ firm.”
More than 100 UEA Law students a year are involved in voluntary activities. Other projects include ‘Street Law’, which introduces school children to aspects of the law through activities such as mock trials, and the ‘UEA Innocence Project’ which sees teams of students investigating alleged miscarriages of justice.
Students are also involved in a UEA/British Red Cross Humanitarian Law project and will soon begin working with Shelter on its housing advice service.
The UEA Law Clinic will focus on employment and discrimination law – both areas of expertise at the university and with significant unmet need for free legal advice in the region.
Law school head Prof Alastair Mullis will be guest speaker at the NCLS AGM on July 18. Naomi Newell will also speak about her experiences as an NCLS volunteer at the event.