20th Anniversary: An Interview with Stuart Kelly

When were you in the clinic?

2005 to 2009

What are you doing now?

Following a decade practising as a solicitor, both in private practice and in-house, I re-joined the university a few years ago as a lecturer in law. Whilst I really enjoyed my time in practice, the opportunity to work within the Law School and help make a positive contribution to the student experience was really attractive to me. Part of my job involves directing the Diploma in Professional Practice, so my professional experience works well in that role which links students directly with their professional responsibilities.

What was your favourite memory of the clinic?

I have so many fond memories of being in the Clinic. Working closely with other students, whether on cases or in the management of the Clinic, led to lasting friendships that remain to this day. Each client success was a positive experience, and the sense of satisfaction of doing right for a client persisted in my time in legal practice. However, if I had to pick one particular memory, it was the day that Effie Shaw received her honorary doctorate from the university. Effie was an incredible woman, who worked tirelessly for people in her capacity as a senior adviser at Glasgow Central CAB. I am sure that Effie would not have minded me saying that she volunteered well into her later years, reminding us all that age is but a number. She was an incredible role model about the importance of service of others. Effie’s honorary doctorate was nominated by students, led by Aidan West. Effie was thrilled to get that recognition and I know how much the day meant to her and her family. Some of us got to be there and it was just brilliant and heart-warming and special. Effie has since passed on but it is right that the Law Clinic continues to recognise her impact on so many of us (and the city of Glasgow more generally) in having an award in her honour.

What was your most nerve-wracking moment in the clinic?

Undoubtedly this would be my first “proof” in the then Small Claims court. The hearing lasted all afternoon, and the sheriff was not afraid to intervene and hold me to the standard of a solicitor. It was a difficult day and at the time I did not enjoy it. It was a reminder that representation of clients is not, nor should it be, easy. It was a rewarding day too, as the hearing ultimately ended in a positive outcome for our client. I have since spoken to the sheriff about the experience, and whilst we had a laugh about it, he rightly makes no apology that judges should uphold standards in the court. That puts the pressure on students to ensure they are prepared and able to make effective representations. I am always so proud to hear of students representing client in courts and tribunals, as I know first-hand the amount of work and bravery that requires.

What was the most valuable thing you learned from being in the clinic?

The importance of client care and the importance of treating each client with respect and dignity. Whilst in legal careers we will have many cases, and some may have many hundreds ongoing at the same time, our clients often only have one legal case, and it matters so much to them. I think it is really important to remember that when dealing with clients. Whilst in practice I always sought to ensure my clients were regularly updated of their case and took the time as often as I could to check in on them by email or call just to ensure they were ok and understood what was going on. It might seem small to you but can take so much pressure off clients and help them deal with what is often a traumatic time.

Any thoughts on access to justice or the need for law clinics in general?

Here me out here, but in an ideal world Law Clinics would not exist. That is no criticism of our Clinic or any other, or the incredible work that goes on – but Clinics are there because otherwise clients would not have access to appropriate legal representation. I am very proud of our Clinic and its ongoing success, but its number of clients and range of issues being dealt with also exposes the constancy of the need for legal representation. So, whilst the successes of the Clinic are to be applauded, it is unfortunate that the reasons for the Clinic’s existence show no sign of abating.

Any special message for Law Clinic’s 20th birthday?

The Law Clinic is a jewel in the crown of the university. The Clinic and its generations of student advisers, supported by its staff, have contributed so much to improve the lives of many in the west of Scotland. That contribution can be assessed monetarily, but it is bigger than that – the Clinic gives voice to people who don’t have one and gives remedies to those who otherwise go without. There is much to be thankful for.  Strathclyde led the way in being the first Law Clinic in Scotland, and now most other universities have some form of Clinic. We led the way and can be proud of that, but ultimately what matters is keeping up the good work. Clients will keep needing representation and support, so let us renew our focus and get back on with the job.

We are hosting an event on campus to celebrate our 20th Anniversary on the 21st September 2023. This will provide an opportunity for past and present advisors and friends of the clinic to come together and discuss the issues facing access to justice in our main practice areas: employment, regulation of social service workers and immigration. You can sign-up via the link below: