BPP University’s successful pro bono clinic awarded quality mark
BPP University’s London pro bono legal advice clinic has become only the second in the country to be awarded the Advice Quality Standard (AQS), the quality mark for independent advice organisations in the voluntary sector.
BPP University’s Pro Bono Centre, which deploys volunteers from BPP University Law School students and solicitors from top law firms, saw an increase in clients at its BPP London Legal Advice Clinic (BLAC) in 2014/15 seeking advice on family matters and housing issues.
The clinic demonstrated, following an external audit process, that it had met the requirements of the Advice Quality Standard for a number of reasons, such as its comprehensive family and housing client information forms and networking between BLAC and other organisations.
Neil Huxtable, AQS auditor, added: “Particularly impressive were the family and housing handbooks produced that assist both the clinic and the student volunteers in the provision of the service. Moreover, planning is comprehensive and accords with the strategic plans of the law school and the university as a whole.”
Tony Martin, Supervising Solicitor in the clinic, noted that: “We have always provided a professional service to clients. The award of the Advice Quality Standard was a fantastic achievement, which enables us to demonstrate the quality of the service we provide.”
BLAC dealt with 298 telephone enquiries from the public throughout 2015, with calls returned by BPP University Law School LLB students.
There were twice as many enquiries about housing (202) than family (96) matters. Of those, the number of clients advised in the clinic increased from the previous year’s total from 129 to 142. Forty more housing clients, than family, were advised. In addition, seven clients were given follow-up advice. One appointment was also conducted via Skype as the client was located outside of London.
BLAC enquiries about housing matters included service charges, rent increases, money claims, landlord and tenant problems and neighbour disputes.
Family issues concerned problems such as child arrangements, divorce, special guardianship and a civil partnership prenuptial agreement.
As well as written advice, some housing clients were offered representation in the First Tier Residential Property Tribunal (RPT), the Small Claims Track of the County Court and in mediation.
I-Pang Chung, a BPP University Law School BPTC student who represented one client, said: “The mediation process was very educational, clearly concessions were made by both parties… A favourable agreement was reached.”
Mr Martin added: “The restrictions in Legal Aid and the cuts in advice services generally have led to an increase in demand for pro bono advice, as many litigants in person struggle with the court and tribunal system. Good quality advice can make all the difference.
“In the two cases which went to the RPT, we achieved a reduction in service charges of £1,200 in the first case and £3,296.71 in the second. In family cases where we provided a student McKenzie friend, clients were effusive in their praise for the support provided.”
BLAC invites BPP University Law School students (except LLB first-years) to volunteer for roles such as Student Directors, Student Advisers and Student Assistants. A number of students from William Mitchell College of Law in the USA were also asked to join its first BPP University Pro Bono Centre summer school this year.
As a result of the successful summer school, six students were recruited to the housing clinic team as Student Advisers and were paired with BPP University students where they each saw a client and prepared a letter of advice.
External supervisors from 15 different law firms such as Mishcon de Reya, Withers and DWF, were also used as BLAC supervisors during 2014/15. Several of these supervisors were also BPP University alumni.
Evgenia Kabanova, a BPP University LPC student and BLAC volunteer, said: “The knowledge I have gained whilst volunteering for BLAC is invaluable and I would strongly encourage every BPP University Law School student to sign up for the clinic, however challenging it may sound, as it will also supplement your learning and put theory into practical context.”
“This has been another successful year for the pro bono clinic”, Mr Martin added.
“We advised a record number of clients and gave our students a taste of legal practice and an insight into how people without means struggle to obtain access to justice. We hope that the pro bono ethos is something they will continue throughout their careers and that we will welcome them back as supervisors in the future.”