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.
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.