‘Achieving peace and justice for families’ – National Volunteers Week Law Clinic series

In recognition of National Volunteers Week 2022, this blog series shares insights into the work of our students who are involved in pro bono activity at the University of Bristol Law Clinic. In this series, we will look at the scope and impact that these vital projects have on the local community, on the development of our students and on our alumni’s commitment to give back.

In 2021, a family reached out to the Law Clinic on behalf of their non-verbal child who had profound and multiple learning difficulties. The family were seeking advice for an upcoming Best Interests Meeting which they hoped would lead to improved care for their child. In an interview as part of the latest Law Clinic Annual Review, recent LLB Law student, Cora Danieli was one of the case workers. Cora explains more about her involvement in this project in her blog post below.

“The planned Best Interests Meeting (BIM) was one that would determine whether the ongoing inadequate care the family’s child was receiving in their care home would be sufficient to determine the current placement unfit. In that time, their child was living in poor conditions with their basic care needs not being met. They had been left unattended on countless occasions, there was no sufficient sensory training (which is seen as a necessary component of emotional stimulation) and, on the worst end of the spectrum, the family had been denied access to their child and left uninformed when their child was rushed to hospital from epileptic fits.

At this BIM, the family would be in the company of experienced medical professionals, social care workers, an independent mental health advocate (IMHA) for their child, and individuals from the care home. Our job was to adequately prepare the family for this daunting meeting and put together a list of recommendations (from highest to lowest priority) which would support their claim. Thiscame with many challenges, not least due to the inherently emotional nature of it for all those involved.

Our preparation involved conducting legal research into the Mental Capacity Act, Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (MCA DoLS), the Care Act and BIMs themselves. Having familiarised ourselves with this, we were given the opportunity to review extensive medical documentation and liaise with health and social care professionals.

“This case really highlighted how important the work of every single student and member of staff in the Clinic is. Whilst it is a wonderful learning opportunity for us as students, our work is often the only hope for clients that come to the Clinic to achieve justice and that makes a real difference.”

We wrote numerous medicolegal advice letters based on this information, and further used these as a foundation for advising our client on the complaints process for the relevant healthcare bodies. As a university student, this was both extremely challenging and highly rewarding and I am very thankful to have been involved.

My case partners and I successfully supported the family in securing a positive outcome at the BIM and securing a long-term better quality of life for the family’s child. We are overjoyed to have been a part of this success and wish our clients all the best for the future. We also hope that the complaints we helped to raise will come to fruition in the near future and help them, and any others in similar situations, to achieve both peace and justice.”

Further information

Find out more about the work of the University of Bristol Law Clinic and the pro bono activities our students and alumni get involved in by reading our National Volunteering Week 2022 blog series.

‘An unparalleled taste of what it is like to be a solicitor’ – National Volunteers Week Law Clinic series

In recognition of National Volunteers Week 2022, this blog series shares insights into the work of our students who are involved in pro bono activity at the University of Bristol Law Clinic. In this series, we will look at the scope and impact that these vital projects have on the local community, on the development of our students and on our alumni’s commitment to give back.  

The Law Clinic primarily works with individuals who have low incomes, are disadvantaged and are likely to experience difficulties. Much of the work undertaken by students relates to welfare and disability benefits, employment issues, discrimination, mental health, housing and immigration. In this Q&A as part of the latest Law Clinic Annual Review, we talk to Dimitris and Eve, joint winners of the University of Bristol Law Clinic Award for Best Final Year Student, about just how far students go to secure a successful outcome for their clients.  

What was it like to receive the Final Year Student Law Clinic Award for your social security case?

Receiving the Final Year Student Law Clinic Award was a surprising and humbling experience. Our motivation for engaging in case work was primarily to help individuals at some of the most vulnerable times of their lives, and so we’d never really considered the possibility of being awarded for this work. 

“Defending our client against experienced litigators from the Department for Work and Pensions was particularly challenging and I’m elated we won part of the appeal.” Dimitris Trigkas (LLB 2021)

 

Can you tell us a bit more about the case that secured you the award? 

The award serves as a recognition of our hard work on a multijurisdictional social security case. It was a benefits appeal that centred around UK, Greek and EU law in which the entitlement to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was being disputed on two grounds, the first being whether the UK was the competent state to pay the benefit and the second being whether the client was in need of, or entitled to the benefit. 

How far did your support go in terms of securing a successful outcome for the client?

As there were two grounds of appeal, we focused on one each, whilst supporting each other in relation to general queries and aspects of the appeal. Throughout the progression of the case we had regular meetings with the client to gain all information needed and keep her up to date as to how we were proceeding. Having this open line of communication with the client enabled her to trust us and have confidence in our abilities and commitment to gaining the most beneficial outcome for her. As this case involved Greek law, we contacted IKA, the Greek Social Insurance Institute to gain relevant information for our case as our client was receiving a pension from Greece following the bereavement of her husband.

Combining this information with our independent legal research we were able to prepare a compelling tribunal submission. Going up against experienced litigators from the Department for Work and Pensions was particularly challenging and we’re elated to have won part of the appeal. The opportunity to represent a client in court and speak on her behalf as her personal representatives, with the result being a significant amount of money back-paid to the client, was hugely emotional. We were acutely aware of the difference if would make to our clients life. 

“The highlight of my time at university is undoubtedly the Law Clinic. The freedom we were given to interact with clients and make significant decisions was something I did not anticipate.” Eve Hughes (LLB 2021) 

 

How did the case prepare you for future careers?

Preparing the appeal bundle and representing our client at the tribunal gave us an unparalleled taste of what it’s like to be solicitors. It enabled us to put into practice everything that we have been studying for the previous three years. Additionally, representing a client in a tribunal whilst we were still studying has been such a unique experience that has allowed us to stand out in applications and interviews. It has also confirmed our interest in law and the areas in which we would like to qualify. 

What advice would you give to a future Law Clinic student?  

Both of us have experienced rejection, in applying for a Law Clinic place, or for a training contract. Rejection did not dishearten us. Our message to fellow students and graduates is to learn to endure disappointment and keep pushing until you’ve reached your most coveted goals. 

Further information

Find out more about the work of the University of Bristol Law Clinic and the pro bono activities our students and alumni get involved in by reading our National Volunteering Week 2022 blog series.

From Housing Law to the Financial Ombudsman Service – National Volunteers Week Law Clinic series

In recognition of National Volunteers Week 2022, this blog series shares insights into the work of our students who are involved in pro bono activity at the University of Bristol Law Clinic. In this series, we will look at the scope and impact that these vital projects have on the local community, on the development of our students and on our alumni’s commitment to give back.

Dispute resolution, the process of resolving disputes between parties, is a skill that most students will hone whilst in the Law Clinic. In an interview as part of the latest Law Clinic Annual Review, alumna, Georgia Austin (LLB 2020), explains how her experience helped to open doors to a meaningful career.

“I enjoyed my time at the Law Clinic because it was interesting to learn about areas of law outside of my course. I appreciated the opportunity to develop practical legal skills and to use these skills to help members of the community. Whilst at the Law Clinic I worked on a client’s tenant dispute. The mould and damp in his flat had got so severe his health was negatively impacted, his possessions were ruined, and the flat was uninhabitable, meaning he was having to sleep on the streets.

To approach this issue, my case partner and I explored dispute resolution via the civil courts and the Housing Ombudsman. In this case, the Housing Ombudsman wasn’t a possibility since the letting agents and the landlord were not signed up to the Ombudsman’s voluntary jurisdiction.

As a result, we prepared the client to present as a litigant in person to argue his case. The experience helped shape my future career.

“My experience at the University of Bristol Law Clinic laid the foundations for many of the skills I would be developing in the workplace. I now have 30 to 35 cases at a time and having a foundation in case management certainly eased the learning curve. The ability to effectively research unfamiliar, complex topics was also an invaluable skill.”

 

My role in the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS)

As an investigator at the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), my role is to suggest a resolution to complaints made by consumers against companies providing financial services. As FOS is an independent third party, I assess the evidence presented by both sides and consider it in light of the relevant legislation, regulation, best practice guides and industry standards to suggest a fair and reasonable resolution to the complaint. Investigators spend the first six months of the job in the academy which involves a mixture of seminar learning and hands-on learning.

Following my experience at the University of Bristol Law Clinic, I had laid the foundations for many of the skills I would be developing throughout the academy. For example, the ability to juggle casework with other commitments was an extremely valuable skill to have practiced while at the Law Clinic. I now have a caseload of 30 to 35 cases at a time and so having a foundation in case management eased the learning curve.

Similarly, the ability to effectively research unfamiliar, complex topics was an invaluable skill that I had developed at the Law Clinic. Having developed strong research skills at the Law Clinic was another asset when working to meet my academy targets. Having graduated from the academy, I now work in the fraud and scams department specialising in authorised push payment investment scams.

“This case opened my eyes to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and the many opportunities there are to resolve issues outside of court. It inspired my application to the Financial Ombudsman Service.”

My caseload includes cases where people have tried to invest using established investment platforms such as JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, UBS etc. but have been scammed through a cloned company. I consider the individual facts of the complaint to determine whether it was reasonable and fair for the respondent organisation to choose not to reimburse the consumer for their loss under the Contingent Reimbursement Model Code and the Payment Services Regulations.

I was always worried that my first job outside of university would define my career. I was stressed because I hadn’t got a Training Contract lined up straight out of university. However, ultimately this was a blessing because it meant I explored different routes into law. I realised there are many jobs outside of Training Contracts and paralegal roles that allow you to actively use your degree in a meaningful way.”

Further information

Find out more about the work of the University of Bristol Law Clinic and the pro bono activities our students and alumni get involved in by reading our National Volunteering Week 2022 blog series.

 

I completed a legal internship and this is why you should too – National Volunteers Week Law Clinic series

Recent LLB graduate and Law Clinic member, Ibukun Badmus completed a two-week internship in collaboration with the University of Bristol Law Clinic and law firm Burges Salmon. Burges Salmon sponsored this new internship, open to Black students, as part of the Law School’s anti-racism work to address the chronic underrepresentation of Black talent in the legal sector. In an interview as part of the latest Law Clinic Annual Review, Ibukun explains what she gained from the experience, and why seeking out legal work experience can help shape the path you might like to take in your career.

 

What was my internship like?

The beginning of my two-part internship was at the University of Bristol Law Clinic. From the first day, I delved into tasks I had never previously undertaken, such as drafting court submissions for clients. Following on from this, I conducted legal research, independently held meetings with clients and responded to queries for employment, benefit, family and real estate matters.

Although, I was supported and supervised throughout, I was granted the scope to be independent and develop my problem-solving skills by coming up with solutions on my own, before discussing them with my supervisor.

Following on from my Law Clinic experience, I completed a two-week work experience at Burges Salmon. Throughout my internship, I sat in the employment department. Here, I was given an opportunity to conduct real trainee tasks such as, drafting employment clauses, attending hearings and amending employment defence templates.

“This experience equipped me with greater insight on what it would be like to work in a commercial law firm, including practically undertaking day to day tasks.”

Prior to this experience, I was only superficially aware of what working in a commercial law firm would entail, having only been informed through word of mouth and not through personal practical experience.

My experience at Burges Salmon has solidified my desire to pursue commercial law and has galvanised my motivation to complete my applications in this upcoming cycle.

I am grateful to Sumayyah Malna (Solicitor at the Law Clinic and lecturer in law) and the University of Bristol for enabling this collaboration, as it has undoubtedly given me greater confidence to embark on my legal career.

Why should students apply for a Law Clinic internship?

The first thing I would say is that nobody should doubt their ability and if you can, you should apply to the Law clinic internship! I know many people (such as myself) are sometimes apprehensive to apply for legal opportunities, as you may feel as though you are not equipped with the necessary skillset to perform well. This is simply untrue and besides the experience gained and skills you will develop are the most important things.

“Focus on what is to come and not what you feel like you do not have.”

In my application I was honest about why I wanted to apply for both the law clinic internship and Burges Salmon internship and indicated how I believed it would benefit me and develop my legal skills.

From my first day as an intern at the Law Clinic, I was met with imminent deadlines. My supervisor encouraged me to embark on the work (court submissions) and send her drafts, as I went along. I was set unfamiliar work and admittedly, I initially found the tasks daunting. However, after taking the initiative to look at templates on Practical Law, I was able to successfully complete the draft. I was tasked with several court submissions following this and it became considerably easier to complete.

My top tips for students gaining an internship

As such, my top tip for this internship or any legal work experience generally would be to always endeavour to independently come up with your own solutions. For me, it allowed me to offer effective solutions to the client and even see things from multiple perspectives, as I was critically analysing my own thought process.

This is not to say that you should not ask for help if stuck (I did several times) but make sure you have a go beforehand. Moreover, even when working in a team, by thinking about the matter individually first, it enables you to bring valuable considerations and solutions to the forefront during team discussions.

This skill was also necessary during my internship at Burges Salmon, where I was faced with corporate employment matters. There was a particular task where I had to amend an employment defence template against an advisory guide. I was initially doubtful as to whether my amendments were accurate, nonetheless when I showed my work to my supervisor, it was correct. Had I gone to my supervisor before properly tackling the task, I would not have demonstrated a willingness to complete the task, even where I found it challenging.

This is only one of the many skills I developed whilst on this internship. I would strongly advise anyone who is able to apply for this fantastic opportunity to do so.

“I then had the courage to embark on my  first application cycle. I frequently cited my work during the Law Clinic, as well as my two-week work experience at Burges Salmon throughout my applications and even mentioned them at my assessment centre. Eventually, I was lucky enough to obtain a training contract from a magic circle firm!”

Sumayyah is planning to run this scheme again in the future – keep an eye out for more details on the University of Bristol Law Clinic website.

Find out more

The Law Clinic has been extremely lucky to have obtained funding from Leigh Day for a six week internship for one eligible Black student who is a UK national. This initiative is intended to address the chronic underrepresentation of Black talent in the legal sector. Law School final year and postgraduate students can apply by completing this form by 5pm on Friday 1 July.

Read about the invaluable work of the University of Bristol Law Clinic and the opportunitities it provides to our students and local community.