‘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.