Law centre training scheme to launch

A training course designed to prepare students for pro bono work in law centres is being established by two former student volunteers.

Barrister Oliver Hyams and Baker & McKenzie trainee solicitor David Dowling of the Pro Bono Community, both of whom volunteered at law centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux as students, are launching the course to both improve the student experience in law centres and ensure that centres are staffed by high quality, motivated volunteers.

The course will consist of three tiers, which become progressively more challenging, starting with law centre terminology and finishing with advice on legal drafting.

Hyams and Dowling want to combat the draining effect on resources that untrained volunteers can have; the lack of structure or support for volunteers; the skills of volunteers which can go unnoticed due to lack of time and resources; and the funding pressures law centres are currently under.

Hyams explained: “We volunteered at law centres ourselves and we thought there were some issues: there was no training element, some didn’t provide much support when you were there and there was a poor recruitment process. We sat down in the pub one day and thought, what we can do about this?”

Having been informed by five London law centres – South West London, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Southwark and Islington – that there was “a gap in the market” for a scheme that will centralise recruitment and provide training prior to individuals beginning work, the pair are now searching for practitioners and academics to teach students enrolled on the course.

Volunteers will at first be drawn from City Law School and Kaplan, with the community looking to expand to other law schools in the future.

Baker & McKenzie, Freshfields and a number of other top City firms have all expressed interest in supporting the community, which aims to recruit 40 students to work across the five London law centres.

This follows news that Manchester students are working pro bono to combat legal aid cuts. (30 November 2012)