Module insight: Justice and Practice – Community Legal Clinic
The Justice and Practice – Community Legal Clinic (LW604) module gives learners the opportunity to experience first-hand the world of a legal practitioner.
Leaners first attend intensive workshops to build their skills and content knowledge of relevant areas of the law, then apply those skills through the process of interviewing clients, researching areas of law, and providing practical and expert legal advice to members of the public. Learners are fully supervised at each step by academics, volunteer qualified lawyers or legal experts.
As well as gaining deep understanding of the process of being a practitioner, the students work closely with a legally qualified supervisor and gain feedback on their work. Throughout the module, the students are required to reflect deeply on their work, to translate their ‘doing’ into ‘learning’.
Employability: Preparing learners for legal practice
This module’s focus on developing learner employability and preparing learners for practice sits squarely within the University of Brighton’s vision of delivering practical wisdom to its learners, and supports the UN SDG goal eight – decent work and economic growth.
Skills developed on this module are directly translatable to any future work as legal practitioners and reflect the University of Brighton’s ‘practical wisdom’ strategy. Systems are currently being established to allow learners to log the legal work that they do with the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority as ‘qualifying work experience’(QWE): that is, a part of the body of work required to be completed by a learner who wishes to qualify as a lawyer, which develops the required competencies of a solicitor. This QWE is required in addition to the examinations SQE 1 and SQE 2 that learners must take to qualify as a solicitor in the UK.
In the onboarding process, learners have an intensive onboarding study period, in which they develop a mixture of soft skills (e.g. client management, interviewing) and hard skills within the areas of law that clinic matters pre-eminently deal with. These include the practical application of differing areas of law, including housing, family, consumer rights, victims’ right to review and employment law.
The University of Brighton Legal Clinic is run by a qualified and practising solicitors, and each matter the students are involved with follows the same case management process as the students would experience in practice. The students are required to review the client’s/clients’ file, prepare for and run the client interview, conduct and draft legal research, formulate a letter of advice to the client based on that research and then close the file.
Increasing learners’ employability
In addition to the valuable development of hard skills within legal competencies, learners also develop critical transferable soft skills. These include how to interview, build relationships and trust with clients; request and gather evidence; perform research; draft documents in an appropriate style tailored to their individual client; plus how to manage their files and time.
Learners provide feedback on their employability progress in this module. In the feedback (collected anonymously as above), when asked whether the work learners do in clinic has or will assist with learners’ employability prospects, learners pointed to the experience gained: “It has given me real life experience that will be looked on favourably by employers.”
Another said: “I am now confident in client interviewing, dealing with difficult team members and adapting the way you conduct interviews dependent on the situation at hand 100 percent.”
Other learners commented on the practical aspects of their preparation for practice: “The practical element of clinic enables students to prepare for work in the real world” and “definitely will help with employability factor as it provides practical work experience which many other students may not have had the chance to do.”
In relation to the module as a whole, one learner said: “It is amazing being able to research the law and see how it is applicable/benefits real life clients. It is very rewarding work and provides insight into the sorts of situations and people you will be dealing with when in practice.”
Another learner noted: “This module has been incredibly stimulating in terms of practical learning. It has allowed me to apply the law in real–life scenarios and I feel this has really set me up for a future career in law.”
Societal impact: Business as a force for good
Through this module students are first introduced to the work of a legal clinic, then onboarded, and finally work with real clients, providing them with the legal advice the clients would otherwise be unable to access because of the financial costs of such advice. The client’s need for justice could be in one of a number of areas – recent examples include tenants who have been served an invalid eviction notice and who would have been evicted were it not for the advice the clinic provided; and an elderly woman who had experienced poor service from a builder who left the work unfinished despite her full payment, and for whom learners’ explained clearly her rights under consumer legislation and drafted a letter explaining these rights for the client to send to her builder.
The societal impact of providing access to justice is significant. In fact, one of the five defined ‘British values’ that children are taught as fundamental to the role of a British citizen, is the Rule of Law. Everyone should be subject to and equal in front of the law. If individuals are unable to understand or be advised in relation to the law as it applies to them, they cannot be fully equal in front of the law which can be applied against them to their disadvantage.
In reverse, if clinic’s clients – usually local, whether members of the public or small and medium sized businesses – are empowered to understand their legal position as a consequence of the advice supervised learners provide to them, they are additionally empowered by this knowledge and able to access the justice which is their due. In providing this societal impact the learners are supporting UN sustainable development goal 10 – reduced inequalities, as well as goal 16 – peace, justice and strong institutions.
The University of Brighton Legal Clinic, which the academic module LW604 supports, is an inclusive service that provides legal advice to those who would otherwise not be able to access it for financial reasons. The work learners do empowers those who are disadvantaged by their financial situation to understand and act upon their legal rights.
Our clients come from a diverse range of backgrounds, including of different ethnicities and people with mental and physical health conditions or impairments. The vast majority of these are unable to access justice except on a pro bono basis, which means that without the services offered by student clinicians and their supervisors, these clients would be excluded from their ability to access legal services.
Learners gain essential skills needed to become future legal practitioners, as well as transferable soft skills as outlined above. All skills developed directly relate to their future success, which promotes decent work and economic growth.
Learners can use their skills to demonstrate Qualifying Work Experience, should they choose to qualify as a solicitor. In addition, they have the opportunity to network with qualified lawyers by attending monthly drop-ins with supervisors and the Clinic Lead. Learners are free to use these sessions for whatever is most useful for them and discussions have included their ongoing matters but also in-depth discussion with lawyers and academics of different specialisms into the different aspects of various legal roles and legal specialisms. All of these aspects of their learning is targeted to springboard learners in their future success.
UN Sustainable Development Goals
Our pro bono legal clinic meets the following UN global goals:
- Decent work and economic growth – standard eight
- Reduced inequalities – standard 10
- Peace, justice and strong institutions – standard 16
- Partnerships for the goals – standard 17
 The Bach Report, spearheaded by Lord Bach and debated by the House of Lords, noted that reforms to the provision of legal aid introduced in 2011 tightened the financial eligibility criteria for receiving legal aid and resulted in a reduction in the range of issues for which civil legal aid was available. The result is that those who cannot afford to pay for legal advice, may find it difficult to obtain it.
 The Rule of Law, which can be defined using the Professor A V Dicey’s definition (1885), that: no man could be lawfully interfered or punished by the authorities except for breaches of law established in the ordinary manner before the courts of land; no man is above the law and everyone, whatever his condition or rank is, is subject to the ordinary laws of the land; and the result of the ordinary law of the land is constitution.