Demand for free legal advice spiralling upwards, charity reports

Barnes: clinics make a positive difference

There is fast-growing growing demand for free legal advice, with family law now the most requested area of law, according to the experience of LawWorks, the solicitors’ national pro bono charity.

A report on the work of its 223 clinics in the year to March 2016 found that they responded to over 53,000 enquiries, a 24% increase on the previous year.

Over 35,000 clients were given legal advice at a clinic, an increase of 25% on the previous year, and a further 11,000 clients were given general information or signposted or referred to other services. Part of this increase was due to the 21% growth in the clinics network over the year – more than a third of the total number of clinics in the network (36%) were attached to law schools.

Some 71% of clinics reported an increase in the number of clients in crisis or distress.

The report showed how the clinics were supporting some of the most vulnerable individuals in society, with 85% of clients reporting a household income below the Joseph Rowntree Foundation minimum income standard threshold of £17,100.

Over a quarter (27%) of clinic clients identified as having one or more disabilities and 57% of clients were from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Six in ten of clients were women.

Some 21% of enquiries related to family law – with enquiries up by more than a third – followed by employment and housing with 17% each, and asylum and immigration (14%).

The profession’s commitment to pro bono was also on the rise, with a 5% increase in volunteers at the clinics to 4,824, more than half of whom were students. At the same time, 29% of clinics experienced reduced funding.

LawWorks also ran a project in Wales to monitor the impact of its advice, and found most clients came away with a better understanding of the problem, making them more empowered and less stressed as a result.

LawWorks chief executive Martin Barnes said: “Our report highlights the important and growing contribution of legal volunteers in providing free legal advice and enabling access to justice. While pro bono is not an alternative to legal aid, a growing network of local clinics make a positive difference for thousands of people who would otherwise struggle to access advice and support.

“A legal problem does not have to be complex to be potentially life-changing or to be daunting. Not every legal problem can be solved or solved satisfactorily, but the advice pro bono clinics provide can improve lives for the better.

“The clinics in the LawWorks Clinic Network should be rightfully proud of the work they do and the positive contribution they make. We would like to recognise and celebrate the thousands of pro bono volunteers, and the advice workers, staff and volunteers that make each clinic possible.”

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