I was interested to read recently that the University of Huddersfield has opened a Legal Advice Clinic in a shopping centre in the heart of Huddersfield.
The Clinic is run by law students at the university, and offers advice in connection with civil law and contract disputes, personal injury, wills, employment issues and family law.
The rationale behind such student law clinics is twofold: to provide a source of legal advice to the ever-increasing numbers who are not able to get it elsewhere, particular given recent legal aid cutbacks; and to enable the students to gain hands-on experience of dealing with real-world legal issues.
In the case of the Huddersfield clinic, advice is available to any member of the public, provided that they can’t afford to pay for advice and aren’t eligible for legal aid.
Getting advice from unqualified students may seem a dangerous idea, but before any advice is given, it is carefully scrutinised by law lecturers.
There is nothing new about law student advice clinics. I was myself involved with the Kent Law Clinic, run by the University of Kent Law School, and took its first surgery at Medway, way back in 2006.
In that instance the clinic would take place one evening a week at a local venue such as a library, with a volunteer local lawyer helped by two or three students. The lawyer would take instructions and give basic advice, with the students taking notes. If the matter was suitable, the students would subsequently provide advice and assistance to the ‘client’, supervised by law lecturers.
I believe that many other law schools operate a similar model. However, what makes the Huddersfield clinic unique is that it has a permanent town-centre home, operating from Monday to Friday. Will this be the way of the future, with such clinics filling the role once taken by high street legal aid lawyers?
There certainly seems to be a demand. The Huddersfield clinic began a trial last October, and was fully booked up until Christmas. The trial has now ended, and the clinic has been officially opened.
There will, of course, be limitations on what the students can do. Obviously, they can’t represent clients in court; they may lack the necessary expertise to deal with more complex cases; there will be a limit to the amount of work they can take on and, presumably, they will only be available in term time.
Notwithstanding all that, student law clinics must be good for the students, and any help they can give to the public is very welcome. It’s just a shame that there are such gaps in our legal aid scheme that so much help is now needed.