LawIRL, a new offering at The City Law School, will help current law students gain important practical experience and connections. Sally Gill, Director of the City Community Legal Advice Centre and LawIRL, hopes City Law alumni will join the effort to support and inspire students to enter the legal profession.
“It gives students this ladder,” Sally Gill, Director of the City Community Legal Advice Centre and LawIRL, says. “A ladder of opportunities to build their CV so they can develop their experience in law and show their commitment to the legal profession. This, in turn, helps them when making applications and attending interviews.”
When Sally joined City last year to run the City Community Legal Advice Centre (CityCLAC), she also decided to optimise how Law students at City can access other types of practical experience while they are studying. LawIRL is a new service that brings together several opportunities that help students prove to future employers that they are committed to a career in Law.
“Be that by going on a court visit or volunteering at an internal or external placement, taking part in the City Community Legal Advice Centre, undertaking mock trials, or any of the activities we have that are targeted at students obtaining the experience they need to be able to access the legal profession,” Sally says.
The City Community Legal Advice Centre (CityCLAC) is an integral part of the service as it gives students the opportunity to work pro bono in the provision of legal advice to real clients from the local community. The reality is that there is a lot of unmet legal need in the local area, where the Law School is based.
“The City Law School is in an area of deprivation,” Sally says. “We help by providing advice on areas of social welfare law, including family, employment, civil litigation, consumer, and housing, and we also operate a recently launched personal independence payment form filling service.”
CityCLAC only provides advice in areas of law that are not covered by legal aid and to those who cannot afford to pay for legal services themselves.
“Now pro bono plays a more important role than ever before due to the very significant and well-documented cuts to legal aid following the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO). Many people cannot afford to pay for advice, and so free legal help provided on a pro bono basis can be invaluable and support them to access their legal rights.”
The students work alongside qualified lawyers who volunteer at CityCLAC and under the supervision of Sally, a solicitor herself. The students, called student advisers, undertake the initial fact-finding interviews, which are then shared with CityCLAC’s volunteer lawyers to enable them to prepare for the advice sessions. All sessions are online which makes it easier for everyone to attend, including the client. Student Advisers are supervised to draft legal documents and thereby learn through doing.
According to Sally, most practical experience has up until now been directed at postgraduate Law students at City, but she hopes to create more opportunities for undergraduate students as well, as they often come into their degree with the least amount of necessary experience and social networks.
“I’m hoping to change that completely. In the City Community Legal Advice Centre, you can now volunteer if you’re an undergraduate in year three upwards, so we’ve had quite a lot of undergraduate students where previously we had none or very few. In early 2023 we’re opening up a project which is aimed at second- and third-year undergraduates, advising people on the welfare benefit, personal independence payment, by providing a form filling service, which will be entirely staffed by students from the undergraduate programme.”
As the services expand, additional volunteer lawyers would make a big difference.
Why should City Law alumni who have gone on to become qualified lawyers consider volunteering at, for example, CityCLAC?
“Doing pro bono reminds you why you went into law in the first place. Helping clients to access the justice they deserve, definitely gives you a warm feeling. Volunteering is proven to be good for your mental health and a key way to give back to society,” Sally Gill says.
According to Sally, pro bono work is considered important both by the Law Society, Bar Council and the legal profession as a way of demonstrating your passion for law and access to justice.
“We are hoping to attract City Law School alumni who have qualified as lawyers to return and give back not only to the Law School but also to wider society and help students develop that pro bono ethos to take forward into their future careers. We hope to develop more socially responsible citizens who go on to volunteer when they (in turn) qualify as lawyers.”
Sally is keen to point out how inspiring it can be for current students to interact and work with Law alumni who have gone on to qualify and find work in the sector.
If CityCLAC doesn’t feel like the right commitment, there will be other opportunities to get involved in as well.
“The City Law School are always looking for lawyers to get involved in mentoring programmes,” Sally gives as an example.
She also hopes to provide insight days, networking events, employment-related activities, and further partnerships with law firms and community groups.
Two City alumni who became barristers are already collaborating with City by providing a service called the School Exclusion Project, which provides representation to the families of children who have been excluded from school.
To ensure the opportunities are accessible to all students, Sally is also looking to establish a scholarship for widening participation students.
To officially launch LawIRL, an event is planned for the 15th of March this year. It will be an opportunity for those who are already collaborating with the City Law School, and those who would like to get involved to come together and celebrate with the School’s staff, students and alumni. All interested alumni are invited. You can contact LawIRL@city.ac.uk if you would like to attend.
If you are a qualified lawyer and would like to know more about volunteering at LawIRL, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Sally Gill on firstname.lastname@example.org.