From the ashes: the rise of the Law Clinic education – National Volunteers Week Law Clinic series

A solicitor for almost four decades, the Law Clinic’s Director, John Peake, set up his own firm in 2002. South West Law undertook legal aid work with cases that concentrated on social welfare law. The introduction of the Legal Aid and Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders act (LAPSO) in 2013 saw the availability of publicly funded legal aid work for social welfare removed and the firm’s work massively reduced. In an interview in our latest Law Clinic Annual Review, John talks about how this experience laid the foundations for the pro bono work students now manage in the Law Clinic – and how, whilst there are challenges ahead, the future is bright for law clinics and the students that work in them.

John Peake

How did the introduction of LAPSO lay the foundations for Law Clinic work?

The government reductions in funding meant the availability of legal aid was drastically slashed. That meant that several areas of work that legal aid did cover were no longer covered. There was no legal aid for most family cases, no legal aid for most immigration cases and no legal aid for welfare benefit cases. This significantly impacted the number of people who needed advice and support but could not access solicitors which, in turn, led to a high demand for pro bono help from Law Clinics.

What does that demand look like in terms of the growth of the Law Clinic?

We now have in the region of 230 students who are involved in the Law Clinic ranging from first year law students through to master’s students. We deal with something in the order of 300-400 cases in any one year and we cover an entire range of legal issues from housing, benefits appeals, contract disputes and employment cases.

The people who contact the Law Clinic tend to contact us as a last resort. Most people have already tried to get help from Citizen’s Advice, from a law centre or from a solicitor but find either they cannot help or that they cannot afford to carry on using them. At that point they contact us.

One of the great things about the Law Clinic is that we have a range of clients and it is accessible in the widest sense. We have people who have very little money. We have people who have a relatively moderate amount of money but cannot afford legal bills. And we get quite a lot of people who would not go to a solicitor in any event because they’re intimidated by going to the flashy offices of the big commercial firms.

What other work is the Law Clinic involved in?

We are also involved in several outreach projects in the community with organisations such as Bristol Drugs Project, MIND and a domestic violence charity. This means we have clients with a whole range of problems, both legal and non-legal.

In terms of student development, outreach projects are an incredibly important part of our work. They help develop a deeper understanding of societal issues and the real impact such issues have on people’s lives. Before students meet clients in our outreach projects, we will work with our partner organisations to provide training so students understand the issues they may be facing and how to respond appropriately.

We also carry out work in the Wellspring Settlement, an area of Bristol which is also one of the most deprived in the country. Most clients that we see here are members from the Somali community. This means students conduct cases for people for whom English is not their first language which raises difficulties but also helps student further develop their communication and problem-solving skills.

How is the Law Clinic moving forward?

The Law Clinic is always moving forward. In fact, it is essential it does so. The opportunity to work in a law clinic is going to be increasingly important to prospective students and they will be looking to gain that experience. It is a demand that is met by the demand for law clinic services and pro bono advice from the public.

previous law clinic students

In recent years, there has been a three-fold increase in the establishment of law clinics in UK universities. When I started at the Law Clinic there were around 30 universities in the country that had law clinics. Now there are in excess of 90. We are often asked for input in relation to other clinics and situations that other students or directors might have. People come to us for advice and guidance, and that indicates how well the clinic is regarded nationally.

Nowadays students do not just want the UK experience. They also want to gain an international perspective. In recent years, we have been developing the Law Clinic by partnering with law clinics around the world. We have established links with universities in India, France and Germany and are currently planning to run sessions with universities in China. As we move forward, we are committed to further growing our international network of partner universities.

Equally important, though, is our ongoing commitment to nurturing and expanding our links within the community and with community organisations. Over the next few years, we will be particularly looking at how we can develop our immigration work because there is a clear need there.

What is the biggest challenge facing the future of the Law Clinic?

The biggest change to the legal sector will be whether law clinics should be regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA). Now they’re not, but within two to five years there could be a move towards regulation as the demand increases to ensure the standards of law clinics are maintained and kept high.

Making sure that you have the appropriate levels of supervision in place is essential for the ongoing quality of the service. And achieving that will pave the way for a successful outcome if there was a move to regulation. The key to running a law clinic and maximising its effectiveness both for students and members of the public is the quality of the supervision. That means that you need to have people in place who are experienced, who know what they are doing and who can communicate. And that is what we offer.

At the end of the day, being a supervisor is really a teaching role. It is a matter of making sure that a student understands what is involved and to address any concerns and mistakes in a sympathetic way so that students learn from them rather than feel they are being punished for them. It is a question of there being enough resources to make sure that the degree of supervision that is required is actually in place.

How does the Clinical Legal Studies Module feed into your supervision in the Law Clinic?

The Clinical Legal Studies module is available to all third years. Taking the module means compulsory membership of the Law Clinic. I devised and set up the module to ensure quality of service was embedded into the Law Clinic from day one. The module is designed to get students to think about their place within the law and why they react to a particular situation the way they do.

“We are trying to develop students who want to become people who will shape the future, who want to become policy makers, who want to be influencing decisions, but to do that they have to understand the setting that they’re actually in and clinical legal studies provides them with that.”

How a student reacts with a client is really important because it can influence the way that the advisor client relationship actually progresses. We get students to think about their role and to approach things in a non-judgmental way because, quite often, our clients are very vulnerable.

We try and get students to think about how to approach particular situations. If, for example, a client comes in and they’re wet, they’re grubby and they’re smelly – the natural reaction is to take a step back and recoil slightly. But, as soon as you do that, the client will perceive that to be a judgement and an adverse criticism.

But once a student talks to that client, they might find out that they lost their job a couple of months ago, that they have not been able to afford their rent so they are now homeless, they are having to sleep either on a park bench or in somebody’s car and then everything else fits into place. Through that, students develop a much better understanding of clients’ problems and how to go about addressing them.

How does the Law Clinic support students’ employability?

The Law Clinic attracts several types of students because students have different objectives. One of the things that we try not to discourage, because we recognise that it is a reality, is that students will want to work in the Law Clinic because they believe it looks good on their CV. And to be honest, it does. You talk to partners at firms, and they say law clinic experience is invaluable, setting students apart from those students who have not been involved in a law clinic.

So, you have those students who see the Law Clinic as very much a badge to go on their CV and we also have students who join the Law Clinic because they want to help people, because they appreciate the social justice function of the Law Clinic. But there is a tension between the two.

“If we have somebody who comes in with the motive to get the experience because it looks good on their CV, but at the end of their time with us they actually understand why the Law Clinic is so important and the role of the Law Clinic within the local community and society, then I think we have achieved something.”

One of the really rewarding things about my role is to see a student who comes into the Law Clinic and you talk to them, and they say the most terrifying they have ever done at university was to sit down in front of a client for the first time.

To see how that student develops from being somebody who is really quite scared of the situation they find themselves in – with another human being relying on them, depending on them – to see how they become someone who is confident, who is able to put clients at ease, who is able to draw out the information they need and then respond in appropriate ways, that is really what our job as supervisors is all about.

It is the development of those skills that makes our students stand out when they are applying for jobs and that puts them on a path for a successful, meaningful career wherever that might be.

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.

‘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.