The ground-breaking ‘teaching law firm’ set up by Nottingham Law School has recovered more than £3m in benefits and compensation for clients since it was set up nearly five years ago, it said yesterday.
Set up in June 2014, the law school received an alternative business structure (ABS) licence in October 2015 to allow students the opportunity to work in its legal advice centre as a fully regulated organisation as part of their studies.
This aim was to replicate the professional environment and working practices of an external law firm.
It offers social welfare, housing law and employment services, as well as a business and enterprise law service which gives free or low-cost advice to social enterprises, small businesses and start-ups.
Since 2014, more than 2,100 student volunteers have worked on over 1,900 real-life cases through the centre.
Supervised by qualified solicitors, students support clients with a range of legal issues either through modules within the curriculum, or by volunteering in addition to their study.
The centre runs in conjunction with the Free Representation Unit. Students represent clients at employment and social security tribunals, with supervision from the centre’s staff.
The centre’s head, Laura Pinkney, said: “Enabling law students to be involved in the running of a law firm in this way provides a unique educational perspective in training lawyers for the future. It fosters a sense of social and civic responsibility and raises their awareness of access to justice issues.”
The centre also runs public legal education projects to raise awareness amongst the local community of legal rights and responsibilities, as well as an environmental law service to assists individuals and community groups in environmental law cases. This is done in conjunction with the Environmental Law Foundation and local law firms.
Professor Janine Griffiths-Baker, dean of Nottingham Law School, said the success to date “demonstrates that colleagues and students at the centre are working hard to meet an otherwise unmet legal need in a vacuum created by government legal aid cuts.
“Their work is not only benefiting individual members of the community who could not otherwise access justice, but also community groups, external advice agencies, charities, community projects and small businesses”.
In March 2015, the University of Law became the first educational institution awarded an ABS licence, but this supports its trainee litigation programme for those training at firms or businesses which cannot offer the required dispute resolution experience.
Last month, Sheffield Hallam University set up a standalone law firm as an ABS so it could offer a law degree that incorporated mandatory work experience into every year of the course. Nottingham’s students are not required to work in the ABS.