Law School Shortlisted for Yorkshire Legal Awards
We're pleased to announce that we've been shortlisted once again for the Pro-bono Award at this year's Yorkshire Legal Awards.
This year is particularly special as we celebrate the ten year anniversary of our pro bono schemes. We support and run a range of pro bono initiatives in the School that benefit the community, whilst providing valuable real-world experience for our students.
Since the launch of our first pro bono schemes in 2008, we have expanded so that over 200 students volunteer through our internal pro bono schemes and those run by our external partners. Our target is for 50% of our students to engage in pro bono work by 2025.
Access to free legal services is now more important than ever. Cuts to legal aid in recent years have left the most vulnerable people in society without access to essential legal advice and support needed to pursue justice.
Over the last three years, our Freelaw Legal Advice Clinic has assisted over 350 clients. Freelaw is open to all members of the public, including charitable organisations and small businesses. Work by our 89 student volunteers covers a wide area of law, including contractual disputes, housing, employment, family matters and much more. We have consistently seen rises in enquiries about family and housing law.
From 2014 to 2017 we saw a drop in employment law enquiries but this has significantly increased this year, which is unsurprising due to the impact of the decision in R (on the applications of Unison (Appellant) v Lord Chancellor (Respondent) which resulted in the abolition of fees payable by complainants to Employment Tribunal (ET). At Freelaw we have recently assisted in a case from a client who first approached us in December 2013 but he could not afford the ET fee and his application for fee remission was refused. Earlier this year, his case was reinstated and we assisted him to prepare for the ET hearing. We are very pleased to report that his application to the ET was successful.
Nearly 50 students also investigate cases of people convicted of serious crimes who maintain their innocence through our own student-led Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre and our collaboration with the Centre for Criminal Appeals.
Our start-up commercial law pro bono clinic, CommLaw, has grown to 33 student volunteers. CommLaw offers free legal advice clinics on a similar model to Freelaw.
CommLaw has given presentations in the legal aspects of business finance and website terms and conditions to local entrepreneurs, staff and students in the university’s Skill Build series, a free series of weekly lectures aimed at developing enterprise skills.
During 2018 we have been extremely fortunate to have received support from international law firm CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP who are supervising our students in providing legal advice and support to a digital start up business. We are immensely appreciative of the specialist professional skills that CMS have brought to this collaborative project and particularly excited to support a start up in the creative and digital sector, which is a growth area for the city of Sheffield.
Our Civic Engagement team also work with other external groups: we co-ordinate students to volunteer locally with the Sheffield Citizen’s Advice Bureau, South Yorkshire Refugee Law and Justice Centre, the Personal Support Unit and Langsett Advice Centre.
A student volunteer working with South Yorkshire Refugee Law and Justice Centre says:
“Through my involvement in South Yorkshire Refugee Law & Justice, I have gained confidence to work in a team. I have met many people from different ethnic origins. It was a special experience for me as my parents were also refugees before I was born in the UK. This is an eye-opening scheme as I have heard many stories from different asylum seekers. I have interviewed clients and developed a wide sort of communication skills. I have thoroughly enjoyed helping individuals and building my knowledge in the asylum seeking process.”
Students also volunteer at the Sheffield Combined Court Personal Support Unit, a charity supporting people facing court without a lawyer. One of our student’s comments:
“As a volunteer with PSU I can help people who are facing the civil and family justice system without a lawyer. In fact, many of the people we help at PSU are vulnerable and disadvantaged. I am an international student and this position allows me to give back to the community which has been very nice to me since I moved here.”
Our pro bono work benefits the local community two-fold: by providing free legal assistance to the public and by developing the skills of our law students, many of whom remain in the Yorkshire region to train and work in the legal services sector. Undergraduate and postgraduate students can volunteer for our pro bono schemes and benefit from improved interpersonal skills, legal research, public speaking and client care skills.
On the occasion of our ten year anniversary in April this year, His Honour Judge Graham Robinson and District Judge Kelly wrote:
“Everyone who is currently or who has in the past been involved with the Pro Bono projects should be justly proud of what has been achieved so far. As for the future – there is no prospect that things will get easier for those with legal needs which would go unmet but for projects such as yours. We know that you will continue to seek to meet those needs. You all deserve the very highest commendation.”
We continue to move forward; in addition to our innovative collaboration with CMS this year we are also working in partnership with Citizens Advice Sheffield to introduce a new volunteering role to help clients challenge decisions on Personal Independence Payments. Successful challenges can transform the lives of people with disabilities and chronic health conditions.
The awards will be judged by a panel from the Yorkshire legal community. Representatives from the School's pro bono schemes will join fellow guests and finalists at the awards ceremony on 11th October 2018 at New Dock Hall in Leeds.
Visit the Yorkshire Legal Awards website for more information.