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Reflections on the last year

Tony Martin, Head of Clinics at BPP, looks back

This is a very busy time in any university and perhaps this year above all others. New students, a return to face-to-face teaching and new Covid procedures to follow.

In the Pro Bono Team at BPP we are busy recruiting students to our projects and getting them trained. Next week those of us in London will head off on the London Legal Walk to raise money over 130 advice agencies in the London & South East every year (sponsorship opportunities very much available:

But it is also a time to look back on the achievements of the last academic year, and what a year it was. I will not dwell on the obvious difficulties that meant that all our Legal Advice Clinics had to be delivered online or by phone, but I do want to look at how we responded to the increase in need created by the pandemic.

The numbers alone are startling. We advised 473 clients, a 30% increase on the previous year, and obtained a 94% client satisfaction rate. We obtained £83,193.51 on behalf of our clients. Brilliantly, 391 students gave up their time to give advice for those unable to afford access to justice. We were also supported by a host of talented lawyers who give up their time to supervise the clinics.

We represented a number of clients in Tribunals or on the small claims track; in many other cases we were able to negotiate settlement.

We were re-audited for the Advice Quality Standard (AQS), the only sector-owned, independently audited quality standard which is awarded to services delivering social welfare legal advice, which we have held since 2015. Of the 700 advice centres that hold the AQS, just three are law school clinics. In June 2021, we passed the latest AQS audit with flying colours. We are not required to put ourselves through the audit process; we do so because we know that our policies, processes and service level can stand the scrutiny of auditors and exceed all levels of expectation in terms of what we deliver.

As one client commented:

“I would like to say many thanks to you and the team. I think it would be difficult to find this quality and quantity of legal advice either free or paid in the U.K., as I discovered when looking.”

And in case any students need any inspiration from getting involved in pro bono projects, I will leave the final comment to one of ours:

“I’ve felt really lucky to have access to Legal Advice Clinic experience, and it has repeatedly come up in applications/interviews for training contracts since – I got a lot further with applications this year than the year before I started my PGDL, and suspect that had more to do with the Legal Advice Clinic than the academic qualifications.

I’ve heard friends say that client contact terrified them when they started training contracts, and think the Legal Advice clinic has already gone a long way towards easing that kind of anxiety, for which I’m really grateful. It’s also been the most interesting voluntary work I’ve had a chance to do for a while!”