By Basmah Hussain
I have been a student advisor at the law clinic since the first year of my Scots Law degree, and although I have little experience in casework and projects compared to my peers, I can safely say my experience has been invaluable, nonetheless.
The Law clinic perfectly encapsulates what it means to ‘change lives through pro bono’ in the work that it allows students to do. It creates a place in which those who have exhausted all means in their legal problems can feel heard after their voices have been silenced time and time again. This is what I believe is the most rewarding aspect of partaking in pro bono legal work. It is the acknowledgement of clients expressing their gratitude for finally being able to say their piece and have someone understand.
I believe it is important to understand that success in a case should not just be seen in the monetary gain or a judgement given that is in favour of your client, but more importantly in how you adhere to your client and if your advice and meetings make them feel seen.
I have experienced this in the current case I am on, as my client expressed, they were relieved to have finally been listened to and have the chance to advocate for themselves when this is normally a challenge for them.
When in a situation where you may not have the means to afford or easily access legal advice, which many of our clients are faced with, you can feel hopeless and isolated. It can make an already stressful situation more of a burden on your shoulders and this is why pro bono work is a much-needed service in our society. A society in which people with different socioeconomic backgrounds should all be able to thrive.
Pro bono work directly responds to the need for increased access to justice. A lack of access to justice is created by many factors such as the unawareness of what rights you have, the lack of awareness of legal processes and the inability to access resources. Many people also have a misconception of how time-consuming legal proceedings can be which deters them from beginning them at all. This factor tied in with legal costs makes the law inaccessible to those who cannot afford it. For example, ELP solicitors charge £250 for an initial advice meeting and a further charge of £1430 for up to 10 hours of work which is understandably a daunting amount for many. The cases we deal with in the law clinic are overwhelmingly employment cases, and so our provision of free legal advice and other assistance, allows our clients to access justice irrespective of their financial positions.
Clients almost always come in for their initial interview with the belief that they have been wronged in some way, an injustice in itself.
However, advisors can quickly discover there are many more injustices at play. This is again due to the lack of awareness of basic rights employees, tenants, homeowners and sometimes simply humans are afforded. Thus, for the law clinic to be able to provide free legal advice and representation for cases to do with employment or housing amongst others, it successfully plays its part in advancing access to justice for all.
I am so grateful to be a part of an institution that prides itself on helping the less fortunate in our communities. Not only does it provide students with transferrable skills and hands-on experience in the legal sector, but it also benefits people in ways that can give them hope and turn their lives around.
It creates a symbiotic relationship between student advisors and clients which is such an attractive aspect of pro bono work.
Pro bono legal services protect the principle that if law is subject to everyone it should be accessible to everyone.