Pro Bono Centre – Managing risks….The Streetlaw Project

Victoria Speed is Joint Director of Pro Bono at BPP Law School. Rachael Kirkup is Streetlaw Supervising Solicitor. This article expands on their presentation delivered at the UK’s inaugural Streetlaw Best Practice annual conference held at Birmingham University on 7th to 8th September 2016. With up to eight Streetlaw presentations per week running across eight law school sites, BPP’s insight into the management of public legal education projects is considerable. This article highlights the common risks which threaten the success of a Streetlaw project, and suggests methods to minimise the risks.

BPP University Law School (“BPP”)’s Pro Bono Centre

BPP’s Pro Bono Centre opened in 2004. The pro bono team run around 30 projects nationwide, delivering advice and education services to improve access to justice and legal awareness in our local communities. BPP’s Streetlaw project launched in year one of the Pro Bono Centre. In 2015, over 300 BPP students delivered Streetlaw sessions to over 2000 members of the public across the UK.

How the Streetlaw project works at BPP

Students sign up for the project, receive training, and work in teams to deliver interactive legal presentations to schools, homeless shelters, prisons and carer support groups. The students’ work is overseen by legally qualified staff.

Presentations are, for the most part, first class! Students are well prepared, effective presenters and the audience is engaged and keen to learn. On other occasions, and for a multitude of reasons, the presentations can be less effective. Here is how we try to address these issues:

Stage One – Preparation

Preparation prior to the presentation date is the first key step for ensuring the success of Streetlaw. Common problems to think about at this stage include:

Issue Risk Solution
Student volunteer numbers 2-4 presenters usually required for each presentation. Sometimes students are not engaged with the project due to exams, workload or holidays.
  • Run regular training and recruitment periods throughout the year to keep the volunteer list fresh and current.
  • Avoid booking in sessions in known quiet periods and alert clients to these dates.

 

Student teamwork Students must prepare as a team to ensure required standards are met. Occasionally students fail to meet/run through the presentation together.

 

  • Students must sign a Pro Bono Pledge when signing up to pro bono projects – a document which sets out minimum expectations of volunteers.
  • Operate a ‘two strikes’ policy before exclusion from a project, so that you have grounds for managing students who repeatedly fall short of the standards set out in the Pro Bono Pledge.
  •  Training sessions should include teamwork activities to emphasise the minimum expectations of working effectively as a team.
Student skill levels Students may lack presentation skills and feel nervous or have misplaced confidence in their skill levels.

 

Students may have communication problems for example because of strong accents that make it more difficult for the target audience to understand.

 

  • Hold compulsory face-to-face training (with feedback) where students who need to improve their skills can be identified and offered more intensive presentation skills training.
  • Match student skill levels to appropriate venues e.g. students looking to build confidence may first present to a primary school audience, before delivering a presentation in a prison. Explore if students have previous career or other experience which will enable them to handle more difficult behaviour better than others e.g. ex-teachers, ex-policemen or ex-social workers.
  • Match students with lower skills levels with those who are stronger. Students can learn from their peers and can be assigned a facilitative role (e.g. running group activities) to build confidence, before taking on a ‘lead’ role in future presentations.
  • Manage accent issues head on by reminding students that the audience is usually made up of people from all backgrounds. In order to communicate effectively the presenter must slow down and speak very clearly.
Client communication problems e.g. client contact moves on before the key date; premises relocate; last minute cancellations; clients fail to advise you that students need CRB checks or ID to enter the venue (especially prison).
  • Complete a client briefing sheet at an initial client interview which includes essential details such as access issues, ID required and emergency contact details for the client.
  • Always communicate with the client up to the point of the session (month before, week before, day before).

Stage Two – Arrival

Expect the unexpected on arrival: you may think you are delivering a sophisticated PowerPoint presentation to 20 people in a lecture theatre, only to find you are sat at a kitchen table with a maximum space for four! These are risk factors to prepare for in relation to issues arising on arrival:

Issue Risk Solution
Lateness/no shows due to e.g. sickness, transport issues, lack of communication amongst the students about when and where to meet. Lateness/no shows can have a negative impact on client relationships (particularly where the venue is not kept informed) and also student experience (due to strict venue timetabling often presentations cannot go ahead if the allotted slot is missed).
  • Provide the client briefing sheet to the student presenters with the address and emergency contact numbers at the presentation venue.
  • Ensure all presenter contact details are exchanged.
  • Encourage students to plan their route and aim to arrive at least 15 minutes before the start of the presentation to allow for set up.

 

Facilities problems e.g. lack of internet connection or other item that was key to the presentation; last minute location changes.
  • Include available facilities in the client briefing sheet.
  • Advise students to have a back-up plan to deliver the session in an alternative format e.g. handouts if PowerPoint not working.
  • Nominate a chief contact amongst the students so that the client can reach them to share any last minute changes.
Variation in audience size e.g. an expected audience of 50 turns out to be an audience of two (or vice versa)
  • Ensure students are confident in the material and have thought beforehand how it can be adapted according to audience numbers. For example, smaller audiences may respond better to a ‘round the table’ discussion rather than a lecture style presentation. Conversely, an unexpectedly large group could be broken down into smaller group work and assign a presenter to each group, to allow for greater levels of   interaction.

 

Stage Three – During the presentation

Once the presentation is underway we are usually confident that they’ll do a great job.

However, some particular challenges arise which you will want to prepare for in advance:

Issue Risk Solution
Level of client knowledge and challenging behaviours Encountering situations where e.g. ex-offenders know more about stop and search law than the students (through personal experience). Sometimes this can lead to impatient/borderline aggressive behaviour or audience walk outs.

 

Other sorts of behaviour causing difficulties include e.g. lack of interest; swearing; interrupting; use of mobile phones, etc. This is a particularly challenging situation for students as behaviour can be unpredictable.

  • Match student skill set to appropriate venues (see above).
  • Advise students to set out ground rules at the beginning of sessions, so the audience is clear what the expectations of them are. For example, schoolchildren could be asked to raise their hand to ask a question; to put their phones away; etc.
  • Require a member of staff from the client to be present during the session and make clear that they should deal with any disciplinary issues. This requirement should be set out at the initial client interview and reiterated in further communications.
  • Find out about and mirror any techniques used by venues to gain audience attention e.g. clapping rhythm techniques used in primary schools.

 

Limitations of the service We have clear student guidelines that they can deliver content agreed with a supervising solicitor but cannot go beyond that and must avoid giving any form of specific legal advice (for insurance purposes and also to ensure audience members do not rely on incorrect information).

 

Audience members may feel frustrated where they ask questions that the students cannot deal with (for example, asking for specific advice about their personal situation).

 

Students may also be tempted to give an answer when faced with an immediate request for help from an audience member.

  • Ensure your student training and handbooks make clear what the scope of the service is. This helps the students understand the risks to the law school, themselves and the client in going beyond this.
  • Marketing material for your Streetlaw project should clearly set out the scope of the service (i.e. general information only) and this should be reiterated to venues in the initial client interview and further communications.
  • Offer/request to review any material the client use to advertise the sessions internally, to ensure they are not misrepresenting the scope of the service. You could provide a precedent poster with an appropriate disclaimer.
  • Ensure students reiterate the scope of the service at the beginning of their Streetlaw session. This will help manage audience expectations.
  • Provide signposting to referral organisations including (if relevant) your own advice clinics so that those needing further support are better informed about where to go next for help.

 

Final thoughts

So once you’ve appraised yourself of all the potential risks and solutions associated with delivering public legal education, where to next?! Here are our top three tips to ensure the success of your Streetlaw project:

  1. Develop student training which incorporate activities addressing the potential risks referred to above. This will help your students get into the mind-set of preparing for the unexpected. For example, pose scenarios for discussion or conduct role plays to help students practice dealing with challenging audience behaviour.
  2. Produce supporting material for your project which helps to minimise these risks e.g. student handbooks and checklists for pre-presentation prep; marketing material; client briefing sheets; posters for venues to advertise sessions.
  3. Build a feedback stage into your project, in relation to both venues and students (e.g. questionnaires; online surveys). Seek feedback after individual presentations and annually. This will give you an immediate understanding of any issues that are arising and allow you to address these with individual students/venues and/or the project at large.

Good luck to all with their Streetlaw projects this year! We would welcome any further discussion and advice on Streetlaw best practice – you can contact us at:

Follow us on Twitter: @probonoBPP

Facebook: BPP Pro Bono Centre

Email: probono@bpp.com

 

 

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