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Law students tackle advice black hole with free legal partnership

Coventry’s law students are tackling an “advice black hole” left by cuts to legal aid by offering free advice to hundreds of city residents in a pioneering partnership.

Coventry University is working with Central England Law Centre to help advise those no longer eligible for financial help to take complaints forward.

Common employment complaints the students have been faced with include unfair dismissal, discrimination and non-payment of wages.

The law charity, based in Coventry and spanning the West Midlands, offers free specialist legal advice and help on employment matters - specifically aimed at those who would have qualified for government-funded legal aid before major cutbacks. 

The unique partnership scheme – run as the Coventry Law Centre Legal Clinic - has already reached out to more than 500 residents in need, and helped the legal charity treble the number of clients it can advise since the partnership began four years ago.

Working in pairs, 12 selected Law School students see clients during the weekly law clinic– all overseen by Law Centre solicitor, Katherine King.

Now, with a pilot addition of global law firm, Allen & Overy, the students also have access to workplace legal training and chance to talk cases through with specialist solicitors.

As well as providing invaluable experience for the budding solicitors, the partnership is helping fill the gap left when legal aid for employment law was cut in 2014. 

Alan East, Senior Lecturer in Law at Coventry University, said:

“The benefits of this clinic for our students are enormous. To have the chance to work with a global law firm providing pro-bono legal advice is so rare.

“Students go through a rigorous process to gain this opportunity and they really give it everything. Instead of just offering advice they can now take a whole case which is a great learning tool.”

Katherine King, Law Centre solicitor and Coventry University graduate, said:

“We are able to see three times as many clients thanks to this partnership which makes a huge difference.

“When legal aid for employment law was cut and court fees were introduced it had a drastic impact. Cases pursued in the Employment Tribunal dropped by around 75 percent and many people can no longer gain access to justice.

“Most of the people who come to us would have been eligible for legal aid and this is another way for us to support so many of those being treated unfairly by employers.”

Joanna Page, Litigation Partner at Allen & Overy said: 

“We wanted to work with a Law Centre based outside London to help address advice black holes in the UK.

“Our lawyers have really enjoyed the partnership and getting the chance to look at employment law issues from the employee’s perspective. 

“While pro bono advice cannot be a substitute for a properly funded legal aid system, we are pleased that this partnership is allowing the Law Centre to significantly increase the numbers of clients assisted and to provide valuable training to Coventry University’s students.”

  • Date published: 06th February 2017

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