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Partnerships in pro bono – making a difference in the local community

The BPP Pro Bono Centre engages law students in projects delivering legal advice and education projects in the community. One project, the Law Firm Pro Bono Shadowing Project, was launched in 2006 and now involves a number of partnerships between BPP, law firms and community centres. The project is run by Laura Jones, Pro Bono Manager, BPP Waterloo. One year ago, on 9 November 2017, the Pro Bono Centre, in partnership with Macfarlanes LLP and St Hilda’s East Community Centre, launched a new legal advice clinic for the local community in Tower Hamlets, London. Here, Laura explains the project in more detail. To find out more, email probono@bpp.com. 

(From left to right: Victoria Speed (Director of Pro Bono & CSR, BPP University), Laura Jones (Pro Bono Manager, BPP University), The Rt Hon David Lammy MP. Masuma Begum (Inclusion and CSR Executive, Macfarlanes LLP), Louise Zekaria (Head of Inclusion and CSR, Macfarlanes LLP), Taslima Khanam (St Hilda’s East Community Centre), Rupert Williams (Director at St Hilda’s East Community Centre))

Following wide spread legal aid cuts implemented by LASPO, it became increasingly noticeable that the free legal assistance local residents could receive was extremely limited and it was from this identified need that the legal advice clinic was established.

One year on and we are pleased to report that the St Hilda’s East Legal Advice Clinic has offered 700 hours of volunteer time over 44 evening advice clinics. 39 lawyers volunteered from Macfarlanes LLP alongside 22 volunteer students from BPP University. The volunteers have provided tailored legal advice to a total of 80 clients on issues ranging from housing, employment, consumer law and general queries. This represents over £216,000 worth of legal advice had it been obtained in the private sector.

The clinic has continued to receive very encouraging comments from the clients who have attended, including:

“The team here are fantastic. [They] treated [me] with empathy and compassion and [they were] lovely lawyers. Thank you so much, you have lifted a weight off”

“The service was superb”

“Very helpful team and listened to my case”

“Very professional advice which is much appreciated”

“It was really, truly, good to have advice. Very professional and informative. ”

Rupert Williams, Director of St Hilda’s Community Centre, has reflected on the clinic’s first year and reports:

“The Legal Advice Clinic has had a tremendous impact on St Hilda’s as an organisation and the community since its inception in November 2017. We were delighted when Macfarlanes LLP and BPP Law School expressed their wish to establish the Clinic. There is an immense need for accessible legal advice in the community we serve, brought about by social issues. Recent gentrification in our Shoreditch area of Tower Hamlets masks deep and persistent deprivation on local housing estates, leaving residents feeling left out and increasingly disenfranchised. Weavers Ward, where the community centre is sited is marked by some of the highest levels of income deprivation in Britain with 34% of children living in poverty (HMRC data) and 53% of older people being income deprived. Within this context reliable and easy to obtain advice is crucial for a great many residents.”

Not only is it incredibly encouraging to know that the legal advice clinic is truly making an impact to the local community, but participation in the project has provided significant benefits for the student volunteers who are able to develop their legal professional skills and gain invaluable legal experience. We continue to receive excellent feedback from those who volunteer and can see a real improvement in their client care skills and confidence when dealing with vulnerable clients.

In the light of the impact of the project, we decided to enter LawWorks Awards for Pro bono 2018. The LawWorks Awards celebrate the best legal pro bono activities undertaken by organisations and individuals and the positive impact they have had on those helped. We were delighted to be shortlisted and attend the event on 3 December 2018, beyond proud and thrilled to be announced winners of the LawWorks Best New Pro Bono Activity Award. The evening was truly wonderful and we are delighted that the work of the clinic has been recognised in this way. We look forward to continuing to assist the local community of Tower Hamlets this year!

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