Our News

12 November 2012

CAVC to provide free legal clinics for students

Cardiff and Vale College is working in partnership with local law firms to provide free legal advice and invaluable work experience to its students through a pro bono clinic – the first of its kind between CILEx and a college in Wales.

As part of the College’s commitment to social engagement and community collaboration with the Cardiff and Vale community, it has set up a Pro Bono Partnership Scheme. Launched during Pro Bono Week, the partnership sees the College join forces with law firms Darwin Gray, Thomas Simon, advice and support service STTEPS and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).

The clinic will offer free advice on family law, employment law, housing, benefits and dealing with benefits to College learners who would not otherwise be able to afford it. It will provide invaluable training and experience opportunities to both Law and Business Administration students. The partnership was launched at a networking event for College staff and legal and business professionals held at CAVC’s Dumballs Road 2 site.

CAVC Head of Social Engagement and Community Collaboration Denise Olander explained: “Learners encounter many barriers which can dissuade them or totally prevent them from pursuing education, particularly with family issues, difficulties in employment or with housing and benefits.”

A staggering 22% of the young people in Wales who are not in employment, education or training (NEET) live in the Vale of Glamorgan, with 18% in Cardiff. In Ely in particular, 93% of 18 and 19 year olds do not enter higher education. These people face significant barriers and it is the job of Cardiff and Vale College to help them by widening participation in education and training, Denise said.

Cardiff and Vale College’s Students Services and Student Finance departments have found that students, especially at the beginning of the academic year, often have problems with Job Seekers Allowance or Housing Benefit. The departments often support learners who have left employment feeling they have lost out on maternity pay or redundancy entitlement based on when they start at college, or who do not fully understand the Tax Credit system.

More extreme examples of students who find their further education jeopardised include learners both male and female who are threatened with forced marriage. A young mother found it impossible to focus on her studies at CAVC because she had nowhere to sleep when bailiffs took everything from her home including the beds. Some students are also affected by the devastating impact of domestic violence or homelessness.

“Advice for all of this can be exactly what is needed to stay on track with education and achieve their goals, with the potential and tools to give them and their families a better way of life,” Denise said.

Under the new partnership, local law firms will provide free pro bono – for the public good – legal advice clinics for all CAVC students. The partner law firms will provide trained, indemnified volunteer advisors in these areas on a monthly basis.

CAVC students will assist the advisors, gaining valuable work experience in a climate where getting a foot in the door can be extremely difficult.

Level 3 administration students will hold the clinic diary and take information from those making appointments. CILEx learners will sit in appointments and shadow the advisors – they will also be allocated individual mentors and given references.

It is hoped that more partners will join up to the scheme, broadening the advice available, such as providing advice on the right to remain the UK to College English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses, Denise said.

Nick Hanning, President of CILEx, said: “It’s a great honour to be part of the launch of such a fantastic service,” he added. “It is a brilliant example of collaboration that produces a win win situation for everyone – students, the College, and the lawyers will all benefit from it.”

Schemes such as the Pro Bono Partnership are vital at a time when the advice sector was threatened by spending cuts, he explained.

“It is a great credit to Cardiff and Vale College and the Partnership that they are working to enable lawyers to give something back,” Nick continued. “Its key goal is that those who need help will get the help that they need. At the same time, students and lawyers will be able to expand their horizons with valuable experience.”

Louise Irvine, Solicitor and Collaborative Lawyer at Thomas Simon Solicitors, will be offering advice on family law at the clinics. She said: “It’s an excellent idea – students will be able to gain some practical experience. It is really important that students can access legal advice as well as gaining a valuable insight and practical experience as part of their studies.”

STTEPS Director of Support Services Sally Milton added: “The barriers for young people and adults who attempt to access education can be profound, housing, health, financial or funding issues, these can feel like a mountain too high to climb. The closing of so many support agencies through cuts in funding is already increasing an inability for some young people and families to access much needed advice and support.  

“We as an organisation are aware of the impact and live by the ethos that knowledge brings responsibility and so while we are having to adopt lean processes, we have great pleasure in being able to contribute to the Pro-Bono work the college has enabled and provide this much needed service. It is our hope that other agencies will join us and contribute however small that may be.”

Bethan Darwin, Partner at Darwin Gray, said: “This scheme is great – it really is a win win situation. We get to put a bit back and we will also get a different perspective. The clients who come to us for help with employment law usually pay so we might not necessarily experience the problems that people with financial difficulties have to face.

“Collaborations between colleges such as Cardiff and Vale College and business are hugely important – they develop people’s skills for the future and that is vital.”

Susan Hilton, Director at Thomas Simon, added: “This partnership is a great opportunity to combine being able to assist students to extend and develop their learning while also providing a service for students who need legal advice.

“Collaborations such as this are an excellent way to help the Cardiff and Vale community to work together. As more partners come on board it will mean that the range of advisors will widen assisting a greater number of students which will forge stronger links between the College and the Cardiff and Vale community.”

Ruth Daniel, Chief Executive of the Access to Justice Foundation, agreed. “This is a fantastic partnership,” she said. “It is great to see collaborations such as this happening in Cardiff – it is the sort of thing that can really drive pro bono forward.”

Cardiff and Vale College Principal and Chief Executive Mike James said: “As a new College, collaborations with the local Cardiff and Vale community are at the heart of what we aim to do. Getting involved with the wider community is quintessentially important and working with professional groups is absolutely essential to support communities as we move forward. I am absolutely delighted that this is the start of a journey that will help so many people.”

CAVC Social Engagement and Community Collaboration Manager Lorna Williams, who developed the clinic alongside CILEx Regional Liaison Officer Lynne Squires, said: " CILEx are always willing to work with us on innovations to create opportunities. Two years ago we developed our eLearning site www.cardiffcollegeonline.com and I am very much looking forward to working more closely together on this project."

For more information about the Pro Bono Partnership, or to become a partner organisation, contact Lorna on lwilliams@cavc.ac.uk.