A no-cost Liverpool law clinic is expecting an avalanche of demand between now and Christmas after the coronavirus pandemic.
And they predict it will not just be the worse–off but a “very wide range” of people seeking free legal help and guidance.
“Coronavirus has affected every aspect of people’s lives from housing and employment to family circumstances and civil liberties,” explains Rachel Stalker, programme leader at the LJMU Legal Advice Centre at Liverpool John Moores University.
“Without doubt those who are less well-off have been disproportionately hit but even people with well paid jobs are struggling to afford a solicitor.”
In response, the university is planning to double the clinic in size and has already taken on two full-time solicitors and a team of law students to deal with the burgeoning caseload.
“We are one of the only law schools in the UK to give every undergraduate law student in-house legal experience. Last year we had 120 student volunteers (some pictured above) working with clients but we couldn’t cope with demand,” added Rachel.
“We have been turning away four times as many clients as we can see which leaves an awful lot of people struggling to access support in matters of injustice.
“Coronavirus has magnified problems for many more people, so we are preparing for a further spike in demand.
Law firm partners
Rachel works with around 30 volunteer solicitors, who give their time for free, from firms such as Brabners, Hill Dickinson and Weightmans among many others.
Clients are provided free initial advice either via drop-in or appointment basis and can get written or verbal advice, with plans to fully represent clients in the pipeline.
Nicole Kerr, a family law solicitor at MSB and an LJMU law graduate said people were facing personal and professional issues that they have perhaps never had to tackle before.
“I believe that there should be access to justice for all and I am delighted that there are centres like the law clinic offering these services so that I can volunteer and help those that can’t afford to obtain proper legal advice without it.
“There is also an opportunity to advise those service users who are eligible for public funding appropriately as so many people do not think legal aid is still available particularly for family law cases when in fact in some cases it is.
“Family law is a particularly private and often emotionally difficult area and if someone is suffering in a relationship and frightened the law clinic offers a safe haven where they can speak to someone in confidence and find out what they can do to protect themselves.”
Legal Practice Course student Emily Driver is another volunteer. She is currently working as a paralegal at Broudie Jackson Canter within the team who represented many of the Hillsborough families.
Students contribute in community
Emily said: “Getting involved in the centre gave me a chance to make a positive difference in the local community while also giving me valuable experience dealing with clients.
“The centre can offer assistance in many different areas of law, which has helped me diversify my learning so I can decide what area of practice interests me the most.”