Law student Barrie Archer is giving out free legal advice to the people of Derby as part of our Student Legal Advice Centre. Here, he explains how the centre came about.
On a crisp autumn morning, as the sun was bouncing off the copper surface of the University of Derby Law School, I was introduced to Kaye Howells, a new lecturer at the University. This was to be the first of many meetings.
During this initial meeting, Kaye mentioned that she would be lead in developing a legal advice centre at the law school. Now, for potential lawyers, this is a big thing. It allows students to put their learning into practice by supporting clients under the close guidance of a qualified solicitor and also provides a much-needed service to the city of Derby.
Several students, me included, signed up to assist in the setting up of the centre and created the name and, hence, the Student Legal Advice Centre was born.
What does the Student Legal Advice Centre do?
The Student Legal Advice Centre is a provider of pro bono legal advice to members of the public. This means it’s free of charge. Since the reduction of the availability of legal aid there has been a shortage of free legal advice.
The centre currently provides advice on family law matters, including divorce and child arrangement orders, areas of law where legal aid is not available unless a strict criterion is reached. Without the centre, parts of our community would not be able to glean any legal advice and would be left to find their way through the legal system. The centre has plans to move into other areas of law in the near future.
How does it work?
I, and other third-year law students, offer the service as student legal advisers on an appointment basis. We are shadowed by second-year students, who will eventually take over the role from us. This gives us the opportunity to develop skills that are important to our future development as lawyers, such as communication, drafting, client care and research skills.
The members of the public book an appointment, giving a brief overview of their issues. We then spend an hour with the client (sometimes longer when you get chatting) and investigate the issue at hand. These meetings can be quite emotional as it is sometimes the first time the person has been able to talk to someone with a legal background. Once the meeting is concluded, an advice letter is completed. This explains the legal position and the steps forward. This letter is forwarded to the client with the approval of the supervising solicitor. We then await the client’s response so that we can begin to assist them in the next steps of their legal case.
Working closely with local professionals
The Student Legal Advice Centre has been welcomed with open arms by local legal professionals as we offer a service that they are unable to, given the restrictions on the provision of legal aid.
Several firms work closely with the University and have attended to offer advice and guidance on legal matters, demonstrating the integrated learning environment available at Derby. We also ensure that, if the client may be eligible for legal aid, we signpost them to a number of local companies for them to assist further. By working with local professionals, it gives the student body great exposure into the field that we hope to one day work in.
Experience and the future
I see the centre as of vital importance to the local community. I have heard from clients who wanted some advice and were desperate for the information but could not afford to seek help from a legal professional. I’ve also heard some heart-wrenching stories that have brought a tear to my eye.
The centre offers something that is not available elsewhere locally. It allows the student body to gain valuable experience in dealing with real-life clients and researching real legal issues. Experience like this is not available at all other universities at an undergraduate level.
I thank Kaye and the Law School for bringing this experience to us. I have fully enjoyed the challenge of working within the centre, as I have developed so many skills from the experience. I have recently attended legal industry recruitment events and, when I discuss the centre, the eyes of professionals light up.
The future is bright for the Student Legal Advice Centre. We have a number of students ready and willing to take over the mantle and move the centre forward.
Their only problem will be getting me out of the door.