‘Taking legal outreach online: how law students can help bridge the justice gap during lockdown’ by Hugh McFaul

Pro bono legal work is part of the DNA of the UK legal profession and can involve lawyers working without pay to help provide access to justice for those unable to pay for legal advice and representation. Following the same tradition, universities throughout the UK and beyond, commonly provide opportunities for their law students to provide much needed legal advice, education and guidance to members of the public. This can be through provision of pro bono advice clinics, legal education workshops in local schools, prisons and community settings and by supporting litigants without professional representation during court proceedings. Many traditional face-to-face universities are now having to rethink whether they can continue to offer this type of community based legal support in the socially-distanced circumstances in which we all find ourselves. Can these types of projects be run online?

Justice in Action

The Open Justice Centre has been trying to answer this question since it launched Justice in Action in 2017.  Justice in Action is a credit bearing module and part of the UK’s largest undergraduate law degree programme, educating over 7,000 students.  It aims to make innovative use of education technologies to provide a bridge between law students and the community by enabling them to utilise their hard-won legal knowledge and skills to further the OU’s social justice mission by providing free legal advice, education and guidance to the public.

Phase I

The module is delivered online in two phases, to our predominantly part time distance learners. Phase I begins by introducing the overarching themes of social justice, professional identity and professional ethics before developing transferable skills of legal research, writing, oral advocacy and online collaboration. Innovative applications of technology, including  bespoke smartphone based virtual reality, are embedded into both the teaching and practical phases of the module. There is a specific focus on how technology is transforming the delivery of legal services and developing the skills and competencies required for professional practice.





Figure 1: Image from Open Justice VR App where students can practice their legal presentation skills

Phase II

Phase II involves students collaborating online to in pro bono projects that use technology to deliver legal services and public legal education. Three examples are:

  • Legal Policy Clinic

Students collaborate with a number of NGOs and charities to provide legal and policy consultancy under the supervision of legal academics. This has included working with:

  • Young Citizens – a national legal education charity to develop a series of materials to support legal literacy in UK schools
  • Inverclyde Advice & Employment Rights Centre on employment law issues to support non-unionised workers
  • JustRight Scotland – a human rights charity to produce policy research on the Scottish Government’s response to Female Genital Mutilation.
  • Virtual Law Clinic:

Our online advice clinic provides a professional standard level of legal advice on civil law issues to members of the public. Students are supervised by qualified lawyers and collaborate through a secure web-based platform where documents and communication are encrypted and protected. Students, supervisors and clients are geographically dispersed and work together on cases ‘virtually’ using online collaboration tools to produce a letter of legal advice for the client.

‘The experience I have had undertaking the Open Justice activities, and in particular the Legal Advice Clinic, has been some of the most rewarding of any other during my law degree and I am hoping that I can continue to be involved after I graduate. Working on live cases has given me the opportunity not only to make a practical difference to people’s lives, but also to test my legal knowledge and skills.’ Justice in Action student.

  • Freedom Law Clinic

We were the first UK University to offer online participation in the Freedom Law Clinic (FLC).  FLC is a not-for-profit company providing pro bono research and advice on appeals for people who have been convicted of serious criminal offences but who are maintaining their innocence.

‘The whole process of working with FLC felt like a professional collaboration rather than an academic exercise so this was a great motivator and certainly helped me to feel like I was contributing to a case and a client, rather than being treated as a student helper.’ Justice in Action student.






Figure 2: Open Justice Team being presented with the pro-bono award for technology in 2019 by Robert Buckland, UK Lord Chancellor

What have we learnt?

The good news is that our adventures in the unchartered waters of online pro bono have shown that meaningful pro bono legal opportunities can take place in online environments and that these projects can have genuine public benefit. The hard part is that there are considerable challenges to be overcome in making these projects work. Two key points stand out.

Firstly, developing effective communication and collaboration skills for remote working takes time, thought and energy. This this has been the foundation for all our successful projects. Secondly, the teaching needs to lead the technology, don’t be tempted to put the technology in the driving seat.  It is tempting to try to experiment with technology for its own sake and it’s easy to become a little intoxicated by its potential,  but thought and care needs to go into the design of your projects to ensure that technology facilitates engagement and learning rather than becoming a barrier to it.

We are aware that taking face to face pro bono projects online can seem daunting, so we have invited colleagues from UK universities thinking of making this journey to attend a free webinar on 15 May to discuss their plans and our experiences.








Hugh McFaul is Co-Director of the Open Justice Centre and Module Chair of Justice in Action.

Justice in Action is a finalist in the  2020 Thomson Reuters Teaching Law with Technology Prize



‘How do you prove to the Home Office something you’ve spent your life trying to hide?’ by Caitlin Alexander

I am currently a Trainee Solicitor, working primarily with Immigration Law. I studied at the University of Glasgow, graduating in 2018 and obtaining my Diploma in Professional Legal Practice in 2019. So far, working as a Trainee has been incredibly insightful. I have been working towards my restricted practicing certificate so that I can represent clients in the First Tier Tribunal. It was been truly amazing to combine my passion for human rights with learning how to be commercially aware and successfully contribute to a business.

How do you prove to the Home Office something you’ve spent your life trying to hide?

I have been a Trainee Immigration Solicitor for only a few months so far, but it has been the most incredibly eye-opening experience. Being LGBT myself, I am particularly interested in asylum cases regarding persecution on the basis of sexual orientation.


In order to be successfully granted refugee status, the onus is on the applicant to prove to  the Home Office that they have a “well-founded fear of being persecuted”. As per case law, HJ (Iran) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] UKSC 31, the applicant must also prove to the Home Office, among other things, that they are indeed LGBT.

I have been dealing with some cases as part of my Traineeship which involves various applications being rejected on the basis that the Home Office are not convinced that the applicant is the sexuality that they claim to be. I want to share with you one case that really got me thinking.

In the interests of GDPR, I will keep the account of this particular case as concise as possible, leaving in only pronouns as an identifying detail. In this case, the Home Office did not accept the applicant’s claim that he was bisexual. The applicant told the Home Office how he was sexually attracted to men and has been ever since he was a teenager. When asked how he knew he was bisexual, the applicant expressed that it was too hard to explain, he just has feelings of strong romantic like towards both men and women.

When appealing a decision to the Immigration Tribunal, an applicant must respond to points that the Home Office have picked up on regarding inconsistencies and sufficiency of detail during previous interviews/statements. Regarding the applicant’s account of how he knew he was bisexual, the Home Office deemed this explanation to be vague and, thus, damaging to his credibility. When I asked the applicant for a response, he explained to me that what he had told the Home Office was the best way that he could describe his feelings, as strong feelings of romantic and sexual attraction to both sexes.

It made me think, how is it that these genuinely LGBT+ asylum seekers “convince” the Home Office of their sexuality?


On the whole, it is much more difficult to obtain a successful grant of refugee status if you do not fit into stereotypes, i.e. you don’t look or act “gay” enough.

There is also much more of a chance of being granted asylum if your behaviour lines up with what western people deem “gay” – visiting gay bars, being outspoken and activist, wearing rainbow clothing. This is problematic in so many ways. For example, if the applicant comes from a country where homosexuality is illegal then it is not safe for them to be outspoken about their sexuality. However, the Home Office will draw negative inferences from this lack of activism.

Another thing that the Home Office ask about is what they call the applicant’s “journey to sexual realisation”. This essentially is someone’s coming out story. Successful grants of asylum seem to hinge on how cogently an applicant can describe a coming out story in line with western stereotypes. The Home Office appears to require an account of an applicant’s emotional journey to realising their sexuality. How is it possible to tell the genuine stories from the fake ones regarding something so personal? It really is not something that you can define the start, middle and end of. The Home Office also require such vivid detail of this account that anything short of this is viewed as damaging to credibility. How is an applicant expected to remember something that they spent years trying to suppress?

So, the Home Office wants an elaborate articulation of a story, right? But there seems to be no way to correctly tell this story. For example, the Home Office will assume that, if the person is gay, then they will have had relationships in their home country with someone of the same sex. If they have had same-sex relationships, then the Home Office will question how this could have been possible in light of the averred risk of persecution. They will say that, if there was a real risk of persecution then they would have been caught. Why would they take the risk? If the applicant has not had a relationship in their country of origin, then the Home Office will draw the conclusion that they are not gay at all. Lose, lose.

For the Home Office, my client’s account was not good enough in their eyes. If an applicant just knows that they are gay/bisexual then how can they articulate an account of their coming out that will satisfy the Home Office? It seems completely unjust to leave it up to majority straight, western assumptions as rationales for deciding on whether an individual is gay or not.


There is also the western assumption that being gay or bisexual is only convincing when you have a same-sex partner. How is it possible for an asylum seeker to find a partner? Think about it, they probably don’t speak English particularly well, they’re living on about £5 a day from the Home Office and not allowed to work, and their immigration situation is precarious. It’s so unrealistic. A lack of a same-sex partner does not, by any means, make someone “less gay”.

In addition, the Home Office look into how active in the LGBT community an asylum seeker is when they come over to the UK. They will ask if they attend LGBT community groups, or attend Pride, for example. The problem with this is that, often, asylum seekers live out of the city and cannot afford the transport into the city to attend any groups.

Any statements submitted to the Home Office by a Solicitor must be as comprehensive as possible otherwise the applicant’s account will be deemed not to be credible. A statement must detail the persecution (if any) the applicant has faced in their home country and what persecution they would face upon return. It is necessary to give details of whether or not they would have to conceal their sexuality upon return and why they would have to do that. To meet the threshold of persecution, it is not enough simply to fear rejection by family or to be subject to unfavourable societal attitudes. Evidence, if available, must be submitted to the Home Office. For example, statements from friends/partners who can testify as to the situation.

In conclusion, the Home Office’s investigation into sexuality rests on assumptions and stereotypes – assumptions as to what a convincing coming out story should look like, and assumptions as to how a genuinely LGBT person should look and act. This is incredibly concerning and creates a mould as to the perfect LGBT asylum seeker. Anything which breaks this mould is not credible in the eyes of the Home Office.

HMP High Down prison project 2020 by Roseline Egbejimba

(photo – Roseline ( pictured first on the right), fellow students and tutor Kate Ritchie ( far left) in the HMP High Down grounds, March 2020)

During one of my modules last year, a student highlighted the benefits of participating in one of the prison projects. I remember quite vividly the smile on the student’s face as she recounted how much she looked forward to each prison visit and how rewarding the experience was, not just for the prisoners but also for the students. I was intrigued and wanted to know more.

Conducting a little bit of research, I discovered that the prison projects are one of the pro bono options available in the module W360: Justice in Action and that they require students to take part in pro bono work by attending a prison and providing free legal information and guidance to prisoners.

So, when the time came for me to choose my next module, I made the decision to choose the prison project option as I was hoping that I could also make a difference in my own small way, by ensuring that maybe, at least, one prisoner was privy to the legal information they needed, which would hopefully improve their chances of having access to justice.

Topics of interest to prisoners

The legal information that you may be required to provide to the prisoners varies from the Sentencing Guidelines, especially issues affecting custodial sentences such as licence conditions, early release and Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPPs), to joint enterprise cases, particularly in light of the Jogee case, to extradition law, particularly on issues affecting foreign nationals in prison facing deportation and criminal defences such as insanity, automatism and diminished responsibility. Topics are based wholly on what interests and matters to the prisoners. You will find that providing prisoners with any legal information is invaluable, especially to those prisoners who have been incarcerated for a number of years and unaware of changes to the law and for those prisoners who for a number of reasons are incapable of accessing the legal help they require, themselves.

Team Work

It is true that working with other students, especially students whom you haven’t met in person, can sometimes be challenging, but you quickly learn from each other and work towards a common goal to ensuring that you provide detailed legal information for the prisoners. You have to be able to collaborate with each other, share ideas and bear in mind that other students may work at a different pace than you or may have work or family commitments which may hinder their ability to adhere to strict deadlines. As a team member, it is also important that you understand that you may be required to step in to fill a gap, should there be a need, to ensure that the task is completed and the presentation still goes according to plan. Personally, I relished the challenge of working as part of a team as it pushed me to improve my work further before the next prison visit. I also developed a competitive streak without realizing it!

Research Skills

With regards to research, I must admit that initially I really struggled with it as I easily got frustrated when sometimes, I couldn’t find the information I was looking for through a legal database.  And like a lot of other students out there who sometimes find themselves in similar situation, Google, becomes a temporary, but quick welcome alternative. However, as I needed to provide a list of my sources, which can be legally verified, I had no choice but to persist using legal databases for my research. This benefited me immensely, because as I continued to use this method of research, I developed key legal research skills without even realizing I was doing so. And as I progressed into the project, I grew more and more confident with conducting in-depth legal research and relished compiling detailed legal information on different topics for the prisoners.

Prison visits and the presentations

The prison visit itself can be nerve-racking. I was nervous about arriving at the prison late, thereby missing the visit entirely. I was worried about forgetting my ID which would have been disastrous seeing as entrance to the prison was completely prohibited without it and then I was also incredibly nervous about meeting the prisoners and presenting the information to them. I suppose I was mostly worried about embarrassing myself by forgetting key aspects of my research or worse, not being able to answer the prisoners’ questions.  However, as it turned out, I had nothing to be nervous about.  The prisoners were incredibly intelligent, intuitive, engaging and also very enthusiastic, which made the visits and the presentations incredibly successful.

I therefore began to look forward to each visit, not only to present the prisoners with the legal information they wanted, but to learn from them. I found their positive attitude infectious and I was also pleasantly surprised at their legal knowledge and enthusiasm to acquire even more legal knowledge. They exhibited the latter by widening the scope of topics presented for research at the end of each session, which challenged me further.

Benefits of the prison projects

Prior to studying W360: Justice in action, I was unaware that there were organizations, such as Open Justice and  St Giles, who are architects of the prison projects,  and made up of tutors, lawyers, and a whole team of volunteers who go out of their way to ensure social justice by providing legal help and guidance pro bono to the most vulnerable people in our society. I am incredibly appreciative to have been given the opportunity to study this module as it has helped me to develop personally and professionally. I must admit that I was not expecting the prison project to benefit me in the way that it did. I feel privileged to have met the prisoners we worked with. I was also incredibly happy to discover at the final session that one of the prisoners who had been incarcerated for quite some time, was finally able to access the professional legal help they required and was due to be released a few days later.

The prison projects have the ability to help your legal development in ways that you cannot imagine and at the same time, it gives you the opportunity to make a difference in prisoners’ lives, so if you have a desire for both of these and more, the prison projects and the module W360: Justice in Action may be for you.

Professor Suzanne Rab and Human Rights, Diversity and Inclusion in the UK post-Brexit

In this guest blog post Professor Suzanne Rab reflects on human rights, diversity and inclusion in the UK in the wake of the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 January 2020.

OU Associate Lecturer Professor Suzanne Rab combines her role as an Associate Lecturer with the OU (on W102 and W330) with working full time as a barrister at Serle Court Chambers in London, being Professor of Commercial Law and Practice Chair at Brunel University and serving as a non-executive Board member of the Legal Aid Agency which dispenses civil and criminal legal aid.  She has advised the UK government on preparations for Brexit and been involved in drafting secondary legislation under the EU Withdrawal Act.

Undergraduates from the UK and overseas will be wondering about the implications of Brexit for human rights, equality and diversity law and practice in universities.

The UK will remain largely bound by EU law until the end of 2020 (“Implementation Period”), unless extended.  Following the completion of the EU withdrawal process, from 1 January 2021 the Westminster Parliament will no longer have to comply with human rights obligations in EU Treaties or new EU directives and regulations protecting fundamental rights that are not already enshrined in UK law.  This is all however subject to any future trade agreement being concluded with the EU which might reflect enhanced commitments.

Withdrawal from the EU has a potentially significant impact on human rights in the UK.  It is helpful to consider this from at least three dimensions.

First, there is the question of whether Brexit might lead to the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 (“HRA”).  The HRA is the main piece of domestic legislation to uphold human rights in the UK.  The HRA gives effect to the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) in UK law.   The Conservative 2017 manifesto stated that the party would not replace or repeal the HRA while the process of Brexit was underway, but would consider “our human rights legal framework” once the UK had left the EU.  The 2019 manifesto proposed to “update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.”  The Labour, Liberal Democrat, and SNP manifestos committed to retaining the HRA.

Second, there is the issue of which individual rights currently protected under EU law are already protected in domestic law or capable of replication in the UK, whether under the ECHR or otherwise. The ECHR contains commitments to uphold certain fundamental rights, such as the right to life, the right to a fair trial, and the right to freedom of expression.  Brexit will have no automatic direct impact on the UK’s obligations under the ECHR.  Rights protected under the ECHR are not absolute and some interferences may be justified in certain circumstances where they would not be under current EU law (e.g. the Article 8 ECHR right to a private and family life).  Although the Government has published a Rights by Rights analysis outlining where rights currently protected under EU law are safeguarded under domestic law and other UK international obligations, there is not exact replication.

Third, there is a question as to how human rights might be included in any future trade agreements with the EU to preserve and enhance these protections.  This issue is put into sharp focus by reports that the UK is preparing to reject EU demands to guarantee that the UK will continue to be bound by European human rights laws.  Whilst this stance is consistent with the hard line on negotiations that the UK has adopted to date, it is at odds with how the EU approaches this issue.

The UK has historically been a leader in enacting substantive equality legislation, seen half a century ago through the Race Relations Act 1975.  This was followed by numerous pieces of legislation expanding the scope of protection to what are now the protected characteristics and identities.  (The Equality Act 2010 covers – age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity).  Although these incremental protections have been supplemented by EU requirements the UK has introduced its own innovations such as the first public sector equality duty (Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000)). A key issue will be the extent to which any agreement on a future relationship with the EU will provide for minimum equality and workers’ rights. 

The UK’s new points-based immigration system is expected to transform the way in which migrants come to the UK to work, study, visit or join their family.   It is beyond the scope of this blog to debate its minutiae which can be found in the Government’s Policy Statement issued on 19 February 2020.  The points system may be good for some university students in a system geared towards attracting talent from the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.  However, concerns have been raised this may have a detrimental impact on women who have traditionally been underrepresented in these subjects.

Human rights, equality, diversity and inclusion are not negotiating tools nor handouts but they should be fundamental commitments and values in universities, the workplace and society.  Only by placing these values at the heart of the workplace, which spills over to the rest of society, can Brexit really work for everyone in the UK.


On 19 March 2020 Suzanne will be speaking on ‘Creating and maintaining European pro bono and human rights partnerships in the dawn of Brexit’ at the Chambers Diversity & Inclusion ENGAGE 2020: European D&I and Pro Bono Summit.


‘Experiences of working in Citizens Advice and the Open Justice law clinic’ by Daniel Doody

W360 ‘Justice in action’ offers some excellent opportunities to work in communities and give back some of what you have learnt as well as developing those skills you may have newly found, putting them into practice. I am fortunate to be able to do two pro-bono activities on this module, volunteering at Citizens Advice (CA)and working in the Open Justice law clinic with fellow students. Both of which I thoroughly recommend.

But choosing what you feel comfortable with can be hard, I chose both these options for personal reasons.  CA gave me the chance to experience advice on welfare law and this is  the area I would like to practice in , so joining a bureau was most definitely the first step in gaining an understanding into the issues that I may face. Doing the law clinic was being able to work directly in a community that I grew up in, so the chance to give something back to a place I still call home was to me a no brainer.

What I have come to realise with both the options I chose, is just how similar they are and how they together, complement one another for a budding lawyer.

If we look at them both from a client’s point of view, a client has an issue and just want to know what they can do about it or even to understand it. This could be something as simple as a new car breaking down constantly and the dealership will not respond or do anything.

The procedures I have seen for both CA and the law clinic are very closely related; client interview, understanding of the issue, research, advice. All recorded electronically on cloud-based software. Although the format and timescales of everything after the initial interview may differ the actual process is the same.

For example, in the CA you will look at and discuss with the session supervisor what to research after the interview, in the law clinic as a team you will set out a research plan and discuss with the tutor and supervising solicitor. On the case write up for the CA you will be noting down everything the client has already done, you will reference areas you have looked at for the client. Within the law school you will write out a research plan and possibly identify case law, legislation or procedures, that may be of use to read and understand. In the case notes at the CA you will detail what you discussed and what options you presented to the client. For this in the law clinic, it is represented by a letter of advice, detailing where the client currently stands legally and what their next steps could be.

Advisors at the CA are not legally trained and whilst the information database used to provide the advice is based on current law and procedures the offering of advice has to be one that covers all options available to the client, even the do-nothing outcome. The law clinic can go a little deeper in its advice and may look at caselaw for example in explaining to the client what options they have, and how to legally proceed to the next stage.

For a law student what would be the best project for you to do? The CA offers you in great insight into what issues are out there in the real world, a drop in session can consist of anything from someone looking at a consumer issue, an employment issue or even an immigration problem, but there are countless issues that you can and will encounter. Training at the CA is based around some of the core issues (debt, consumer, welfare, employment), along with excellent client interviewing training, case recording, plus the options to look at specialised areas of training in the future. It gives you one on one experience in interviewing clients and knowing what questions to ask and when, and how to guide an interview.

When writing up the case notes I have found the skills learnt in legal writing really start to show. Case notes need to be concise and written in a way another advice can see the whole process you went through. The CA offers you the practical skills needed when in a client facing role.

Taking these skills across to a law clinic gives you a very good footing when interviewing the client, you will find yourself knowing how to use the time effectively when in the interview stage. I noticed my note taking style had improved drastically when dealing with clients at the CA and was able to determine through the interview what information is needed to work on a case. In the law clinic, as you really only interview the client once face to face, its paramount this time is used effectively and the notes you take convey the issue as is, what the client may have done already, additional information from letters they may have brought with them. But as you may not be working the case after the interview you need to have these presented for others to understand.

Whilst the case recording is somewhat different you will understand quickly, in the law school, why recording of what’s been done and what is to be done, as your team will need to be involved through the process and may need to know why you are researching a particular area for example. Communication is key at every stage both in the CA and at the law clinic, this is a skill that’s not taught but is rapidly learnt.

Volunteering CA has been of great benefit in undertaking a case in the law clinic, the CA has given me essentials skills that I have been able to carry into the law clinic with utter confidence. I would strongly recommend doing both if you get the chance and use both as a great way to develop your interpersonal skills for client interviewing, social awareness for issues you may deal with clients in your future careers, research skills in knowing where and what to look for, legal writing skills for when case recording and when writing to clients, in all honesty the list can go on! Both offer you a great toolkit of skills you will need for any future career.

Professor Suzanne Rab and the future of EU law in the UK post-Brexit

In this guest blog post Professor Suzanne Rab reflects on the opportunities for the practice of EU law for academics and practitioners in the UK and in the wake of the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 January 2020.

OU Associate Lecturer Professor Suzanne Rab combines her role as an Associate Lecturer with the OU (on W102 and W330) with working full time as a barrister at Serle Court Chambers in London, being Professor of Commercial Law and Practice Chair at Brunel University and serving as a non-executive Board member of the Legal Aid Agency which dispenses civil and criminal legal aid.  She has advised the UK government on preparations for Brexit and been involved in drafting secondary legislation under the EU Withdrawal Act.

Many undergraduate law students will be wondering whether their study of European Union law and international will be relevant to their future professional practice. In my view, now more than ever EU and international law will be of increasing relevance for those who intend to pursue a career in law in the UK and also further afield.

The substantive changes to UK law as a result of Brexit will not take effect immediately.  After 31 January 2020 there will be a transition period until the end of 2020, while the UK and EU negotiate additional arrangements which may include an agreement on a future trading relationship. The current rules on trade, travel, and business for the UK and EU will continue to apply during the transition period to the end of December 2020 (unless this period is extended by the UK requesting a one-off extension by the end of June 2020).

As someone who has practised in the area of EU law since the beginning of my career, I can say that the UK’s departure from the EU is without doubt a monumental development.  However, do not be lulled into thinking that EU law will become of diminishing relevance, at least for the foreseeable future.  Maintaining the level-playing field – which includes the rules on competition and State aid – is expected to be a key element in the negotiations over a future trade deal. 

Remember also that under the withdrawal legislation much of EU law will be preserved intact as of exit day with only minor amendments.  Those lawyers who are specialists in this area will continue to be in demand, as they have been in the run-up to Brexit.  I take a long term view and expect to be actively practising in this area for decades to come.  The issue is not whether EU law will be relevant at all to the UK but how it will shape our future relationships with the EU, domestically and internationally.  In particular, the extent to which EU rules will have a direct impact on UK law will depend on the form and content of any future trade deal that is concluded between the EU and the UK.  In short, in order to gain wide access to the single market it is expected that alignment to EU rules will form part of the arrangements.  At the same time, it is important to note that many of our existing laws are modelled on EU laws and while we can expect some divergence over time, the pace and shape of this change is not yet determined. 

There are also many laws and regulations in other countries that have taken their inspiration from EU laws, particularly the laws on competition.  The UK domestic laws on competition are very similar to those of the EU and the UK is expected to continue to be a leading jurisdiction in competition law practice and regulation.  The UK Competition and Markets Authority has already invested significantly in recruiting more staff for an increased role post-Brexit.  It has also set up a new State aid function for when it assumes its new role as independent State aid regulator for the UK at the end of the transition period.  Lawyers with EU law experience will continue to be in high demand as the UK addresses its new relationship with the EU and other countries internationally.

I have designed and deliver an annual EU and international competition law and regulation summer school.  This course integrates both UK, EU and international competition law and regulation and practical skills elements against the evolving legal and regulatory landscape. The next presentation will run 22 June – 4 July 2020.  This 2-week integrated and intensive programme (with optional components) combines UK, EU, Asian, Latin American, ME/African and other international experience in this fast-moving, challenging and high-profile area.  It draws on experiences from established and emerging competition regimes including China, India, Hong Kong, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia which have recently adopted or revised their competition laws. The impacts will be explored across the economy and within certain sectors that have attracted regulatory scrutiny including in the communications, energy, financial services, healthcare/ pharmaceuticals, TMT, transportation and water sectors.  The programme includes cultural immersion in legal London, allowing participants to engage with each other and build their networks in academic, professional and social settings.  This course will be of interest to students of international law and W330, as well as those who have not yet explored EU law.  Attendees from previous years have included students (undergraduates and PhD), lawyers in private practice and in-house, government officials, regulators, policy-makers and economists.  Further information can be obtained from the course website here or directly from me Suzanne Rab at srab@serlecourt.uk.

‘Developing an appreciation for pro bono work through ‘Justice in Action’ and the Open Justice Mediation Project’ by Kirsty Perry

Having relished the academic experience of my OU LLB and with the finish line in sight, I was keen to get stuck into some practical ‘lawyering’.  Justice in Action (W360) offered an array of exciting pro bono activities.  Regrettably, practicalities limited my involvement to the online environment, but the innovative course allowed for this and I selected the Open Justice Mediation Project.

I embarked on W360 with a naive view. I had no idea of the political reliance on pro bono and no foresight regarding the profession’s obligations or the diversity of work involved.

W360 requires students to build a reflective portfolio, which at first felt indulgent and unnecessarily time-consuming.  My first entry contrasted my budding legal letter-writing to model text.  My critique stated; “too academic and detail-orientated”. The educational benefit of pro bono work was rapidly illustrated; W360 provided opportunities to practise legal research and writing and, within a few weeks, I felt I was doing a better job.

My learning experience blossomed during the mediation project, delivered by professional mediators via tutorials and simulated mediation sessions. Allocation into small student “firms” made our training come alive, nurturing our ability to guide negotiated solutions to conflict.  I seized the opportunity to exchange ideas, practice techniques and enjoyed feedback from other students.  Personal reflection was so much easier to apply following dynamic group discussion and rehearsed interactions.  

In a useful tutorial, I expressed my frustration that, as nothing had “gone wrong” in our mediation to that point, I had little to reflect on.  It dawned on me, during our discussion, that reflection requires “analysis of positive mechanisms as well as negative”. For the first time in my goal-orientated, self-deprecating journey towards professional identity, the penny dropped that one should build constructively on one’s successes as well as shortcomings.  The idea could spur a new chapter in my professional development, but I realise I must now embark on its implementation!

My only disappointment in the mediation project was that it culminated in mediation with actors, not clients.  I speculated this decision was taken because “mediation involves in-depth, confidential discussion of participants’ often emotional conflicts and live communication could not be regulated by a supervising tutor in real time”. I can imagine there was a more tangible feeling of having “done good” and of representing (and belonging to) the Open Justice team during other projects available on the course.  I guess that, had I mediated for clients, I would have had the intrinsic satisfaction of making an altruistic contribution to the profession, which I now associate with pro bono work.

Pro bono work is pivotal for law students, helping us evolve from academics into practicians and sharpening our rudimentary toolkits, ready for our first forays into the profession.  For me, it has facilitated professional development, reflection and identification of intellectual stars on my chart which, as a goal-orientated, self-critical individual, I struggle to thrive without.

‘The Value of Pro Bono work and the Freedom Law Clinic’ by Lisa Nasselevitch

My understanding of the value of pro bono legal work has developed in light of my work for the Freedom Law Clinic (FLC) in relation to social justice, personal enrichment, and professional aspirations.

When I was asked last year what pro bono is and why it is important in my view, I answered that it is ‘a means to provide assistance to those in need, which is a motivation driving many students to engage with legal studies in the first place, myself included. It is also an opportunity to experience the practical realities of a solicitor/barrister to confirm that as students, we have chosen the right career path.’

My view has not fundamentally changed, but developed even further.

I have witnessed the practical impact lawyers have on their clients’ lives. Following the occurrence of a series of dreadful events, my client, who is serving a prison term, has been able to transfer to another facility, thanks to the persistence of his solicitor in the face of administrative obstacles. This has improved his mental health and alleviated the harshness of detention for him. His suicidal ideas even stopped.

Access to justice and representation is currently more essential than ever, however it is not only crucial during trial ; lawyers make a difference at every step of the way. I realised that when clients lose, lawyers continue to put their expertise to use to protect their interests. In the criminal area, ‘interests’ can, and often does, mean ‘lives.’ I value pro bono as a way to ensure that convicted defendants always have someone protecting their rights, even without the financial means.

My pro bono project  included searching for any potential fresh evidence to constitute possible grounds for appeal. At the time, I reflected in my diary that ‘It is satisfying, fulfilling, and rewarding, to use the legal knowledge I have carefully fostered the last three years to serve the purpose which drove me to enrol in a legal course, even more than I had envisaged.’

This opportunity has also shown me that the Criminal Bar, which was originally my vocation, was not tenable for me. The workload exceeded what I could manage on my own. I improved my time and energy management skills, but it was still not feasible without long hours at night. While I always managed to do my part, notably with the support of my group, I knew it would not be tenable for a lifetime, as my health condition requires me to rest sufficiently. Consequently, I undertook two mini-pupillages in other areas of practice of the Civil Bar, which fit me better.

While I had always considered pro bono as ‘a practical test for students to ensure they were on the right track with their aspirations’, I never thought it would actually affect my own aspirations. My experience at the FLC was the first step to realise I was mistakenly pursuing a career which was not for me. That is why an opportunity to get involved in pro bono is fundamental before engaging further with legal practice.

From the Selfish to the Selfless: My Changing Understanding of Pro Bono by Sam Olliffe

When I signed up for W360: Justice in Action and the pro bono activities, I was driven by selfish motives. I viewed pro bono as an easy option to gain practical experience and remedy the lack of legal work experience on my CVI chose to work at Citizen’s Advice (CAB). I thought this would be interesting, and it was. However, volunteering at CAB unexpectedly changed my whole perspective on pro bono.

Firstly, there was nothing easy about the commitment required to volunteer at CAB. It included a thirteen week intensive training period, made up of online tests, knowledge sessions, observations, and supported advising, before being assessed and signed off in role.

I had thought that it would be satisfying to help others. It was to an extent, but it was also hugely frustrating. Some of the issues that we dealt with as a service were very emotional, procedurally complex and long winded, and could not be solved in one meeting’. It became clear that the people who use CAB’s services need more help than can be given in a single session. For instance, many people attended due to removal or refusal of benefits. That money was the difference between a family financially surviving or requiring food bank vouchers so they could eat. Benefits issues are challengeable at tribunal, but not eligible for legal aid. If it wasn’t for the caseworkers acting pro bono, hundreds of people could be denied money they are legally entitled to. This situation has made me morally outraged.

The service had a legal aid contract to deliver the housing desk at court. Observing this led me to understanding that, even if a client’s case was eligible for legal aid funding, it still wasn’t enough to cover the amount of work that was done. This was a key realisation for me. I’d always thought that pro bono was a task completed completely free of charge. However, in reality, it also includes work done above and beyond the bare minimum that legal aid makes provision for. Pro bono can be the difference between winning and losing a case for a client.

My view of the value of pro bono has completely changed, thanks to the clients that I have advised at CAB. I have seen that pro bono work is not easy, or a simple process of making myself feel better. It is not about me, but about my client. I believe it is the moral responsibility of law students and lawyers to take part in pro bono activities, to uphold the rule of law, and improve equality of access to justice, otherwise many people will not be able to access the legal rights of our society they are entitled to

Pro Bono – Keeping it Fresh by Simon Langley

Former ‘Justice in Action’ student Simon Langley writes about his experiences working in the Open Justice online clinic.

When I first started the module and working in the Open Justice law clinic I had little idea of what pro bono work was. I had heard the phrase at various points in my life and during my studies, but other than stifling the snigger from my inner school boy I hadn’t really stopped to think about what it was or its importance within the legal field. I work in a field where we rely on volunteers, why hadn’t I considered the importance of volunteering in the legal field?

After completing the practice case I felt I had an idea of the sort of case we were likely to see. I hadn’t really considered the people behind each case or the emotions we would need to consider around each case. I felt prepared for our first live case by the end of the practice case, but that confidence diminished after reading through the details when they came through. This was obviously a person at the end of their tether.

During our test case I had noted that “our interview technique needs to improve and be tidied up to ensure that we get all of the information required in as streamlined a way as possible”.

After reading through the case it became obvious that this interview would need us to ensure we considered and managed the emotions of the client. This would assist with getting the facts of the case in a logical way without it all seeming too clinical. My initial thoughts on how we should work through the case hadn’t taken into account that this was a person, and while it was important we stuck to the processes and procedures set out by the clinic, we also had to take into account how we came across to the client. Prior to interviewing the client, I feel it will be very important we have a good understanding of the details that we have and ensure we are as warm and engaging as we can be to make the client comfortable.

This is something I hadn’t even considered about pro bono work. In most jobs it is easy to get into a routine and once that happens it is easy to get into lazy habits. By undertaking pro bono work and coming out of your comfort it forces you to up your game and consider how you are viewed by other people. This has to be beneficial when going back to your every day work as some of the lessons that you learn can easily be carried over and adopted within your normal working practice.

I also wasn’t expecting the type of case that we got. I had a preconception of the nice simple one dimensional legal issues that would come up, so was caught a bit off guard when the case came through. Again, in the legal field it is common to specialise in a very specific area of the law, so being forced out of your comfort zone, again, can only be a good thing to freshen up your work and ensure you become complacent.