In this article one of our Student Directors, Paige Alexander, discusses the importance of pro bono work from the perspective of a Student Advisor within the Clinic. Paige also talks about some of the Clinic’s pro bono work and how undertaking pro bono work not only bridges the gap of access to justice, but also produces more compassionate and well-rounded legal professionals.
The provision of pro-bono legal services within society is fundamental. It assists in preserving the Rule of Law, which is the foundation upon which our democratic society is built. The Rule of Law is essentially about ensuring that citizens are treated equally before the law, human rights are protected, and citizens can access efficient and predictable dispute resolution mechanisms. Unquestionably, this cannot be achieved by those without means, without the existence of pro-bono legal services.
Organisations, such as the University of Strathclyde Law Clinic, exist to provide access to justice. This is a basic principle of the Rule of Law which describes how citizens access equal justice within their legal systems. Regretfully many individuals face insurmountable barriers when seeking to access justice. Often, the most significant, is a financial barrier. It is no secret, that accessing legal advice and obtaining legal representation is costly, and many individuals within society simply cannot afford this expense. Consequently, such individuals are unable to access justice.
During my time as a Student Advisor, I have seen first-hand the invaluable impact of pro-bono legal services. For instance, over the last year, the Clinic provided legal assistance, in various forms, to 406 individuals via our various case streams and projects. Each of these 406 individuals, would not have been able to effectively access justice without the help of our services. This undoubtedly demonstrates the pressing need for pro-bono legal services and the true value of their work.
Throughout my time at the Clinic, I recognised the prevalence of the access to justice issue. Regrettably, this issue disproportionately affects certain groups within society, such as those belonging to lower socio-economic groups and some minority groups. In the absence a fully comprehensive legal aid system, pro bono legal services act as an antidote, helping to remedy this situation.
Although, elements of our justice system such as the Employment Tribunal and Simple Procedure, were created with the view of enabling individuals to represent themselves, in practice, for many clients this would not be possible for a variety of reasons. Without the assistance of pro-bono legal services, many of our clients would not be able to access justice due to an inability to adequately represent themselves.
The importance of our work can be illustrated through our success. Over the last year alone, we won/saved £160,295.31 for our clients. Additionally, we were at the forefront of a landmark decision which established long-covid as a disability. However, the outcomes of our cases vary, and the measure of success is subjective. For some of our clients, success takes the form of simply being able to access legal advice and representation, acknowledgement of unfair treatment or acceptance of liability from the Respondent, a good character reference, or payment of money owed to the client. For others, success takes the form of a well negotiated financial settlement or a legal judgment, in their favour, following a successful hearing. The Clinic exists to provide access to justice to those who need it most. Many of our clients are vulnerable and find themselves in particularly difficult situations and often appreciate simply having someone to advise and support them through their dispute. Even clients who attend a hearing that does not go in their favour, feel a measure of success, as our assistance and representation allows their narrative to be heard.
In addition to helping to bridge the gap by providing access to justice, being involved in the provision of pro-bono legal services, provides lawyers and law students with the opportunity to develop their legal skills. Among those skills, prioritised at the Law Clinic is a holistic trauma informed approach to client care. It is hoped that this approach produces more emotionally intelligent empathetic lawyers better able to serve their clients’ needs. This aligns with the true purpose of pro- bono work which is ‘for the public good’, as it assists in producing more compassionate and approachable legal professionals.
Since joining the Clinic, my passion to enabling access to justice for all individuals has been ignited. It is a privilege to be part of such an invaluable organisation working towards an honourable cause. The importance of the provision of pro-bono legal services is immeasurable and pro-bono work is integral within society.
By Paige Alexander, Student Advisor and Student Director
To receive monthly updates on the work completed by the University of Strathclyde Law Clinic straight to your email, please sign up here.