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Quality Assurance in Legal Advice Clinics


Tony Martin is Supervising Solicitor in the BPP University Housing Legal Advice Clinic,  On 26 September he took part in a LawWorks webinar on the topic of Quality Assurance in Legal Advice Clinics.  Here Tony explains the background to the webinar.


Hosted by LexisNexis, the webinar, which was chaired by Richard Pitkethly Head of Learning & Practice at LawWorks, renews the focus on how we measure and demonstrate the commitment to quality in pro bono legal advice clinics.  When I joined BPP five years ago it seemed obvious to me, as a result of my practice background, that the clinic should have a quality assurance mark.  I had worked in a Law Centre for the previous decade which held first the Specialist Quality Mark and latterly Lexel.  I was accustomed to the two year cycle of being audited.  The clinic aims to, as far as possible, prepare BPP students for actual legal practice.  Therefore the key question was not whether we should have a quality assurance, but which one.

The Specialist Quality Mark is really only relevant to Legal Aid suppliers and Lexel is only available to SRA regulated entities (which, like most pro bono legal advice clinics, ours is not), but the Advice Quality Standard (AQS) seemed a perfect fit.  AQS is, as Lindsey Poole, Director of the Advice Services Alliance, told the webinar, an independently audited quality standard awarded to services delivering social welfare legal advice.

The assessment process is independently managed by Recognising Excellence and Elizabeth Morris, an auditor, explained the process during the webinar.

Our own experience was very positive.  After reviewing our policies and procedures we submitted them for a desktop audit.  This threw up a couple on minor points we had missed.  This was followed by an onsite audit, which we passed.  More important than passing, however, was the fact that the audit made us look critically at our policies and procedures and, crucially, how far our practice mirrored our policies and procedures.  It provided a fresh perspective on file reviews and was a positive learning process.

The award itself allows us to demonstrate externally (to potential and actual clients, partner agencies and external volunteer supervisors) our commitment to quality and, within the university, the award of AQS raised the profile of the clinic.  There were many positives in the audit report and we were able to share these with staff and student volunteers.  It was great to have an external voice telling us we were doing a good job.

It was over three years ago that we were awarded the AQS (we have since been re-audited and re-awarded it for a further two years), but BPP University’s Legal Advice Clinics remain one of the few, if not the only, pro bono legal advice clinics to hold the AQS.  It is clear that LawWorks want to change this and encourage the adoption of AQS by clinics within their network.  The webinar was the start of this process; the next step is to set up a clinics accreditation panel in which I will take part.

The webinar can be viewed here: