In October 2019 the Open Justice Centre and Middlesex University ran their second joint Student Street Law conference. Twenty OU students worked with the same number of Middlesex students from Friday evening to Sunday tea time.
In this guest post, Lucy Pettinger, a current Open Justice student, tackles the issue of whether or not UK lawyers should be obliged to offer their services for free to some clients. She makes a strong case that although pro bono should be promoted, much would be lost if it were made compulsory.
Jamahl received a 2019 Open Justice Award for an outstanding contribution to Open Justice pro bono activities. In this post he reflects on his experience of studying W360: Justice in Action which included working in prisons and providing free legal advice to members of the public in the Open Justice Online Law Clinic.
Now, I’m going to be frank. When I was considering my optional module at the end of my degree I was concerned about W360 Justice in Action (the Open Justice module) because, as a relatively new addition to the Open University’s offering, it was a bit of an unknown quantity and the success of my overall degree grade rested on how well I could do in the last two 30 credit modules. I had a big interest in social justice, so it had real appeal, but I was particularly concerned about the team-working element and whether, despite my best efforts, this could negatively impact on my grades.
The changes within the legal services sector over the last decade, means that there is plenty of scope for paralegals to take up the slack and fill the gaps left by those changes. These opportunities have been as a result of the virtual eradication of legal aid for consumers, the level of fees charged by solicitors and barristers (inaccessible for most), the cost of academic training and the abundance of law graduates.
Prior to beginning the Open Justice module I held the preconception that pro-bono legal work was on the increase due to cuts in legal aid and was confined to the provision of advice and representation. However, as the module progressed, I was surprised to learn how broad the provision of pro-bono had become and was especially pleased to see that legal education is being treated with ever-increasing importance, prompting me to choose a Street Law activity, whereby I would work in a team of 4 other students to deliver a legal presentation to school pupils.
Over the last two years the Open Justice Centre has been successful in developing prison based pro bono projects. This success has been made possible by the support of the OU’s Students in Secure Environment Team who work to support prison learners studying with the OU. In this guest post Ruth McFarlane reflects on the OU’s 50 year record of making higher education accessible to students in prison.
Prior to studying the module W360 ‘Justice in action’, I was not sure what to expect, but was extremely excited for what might come. My core project was the Open Justice Law Clinic, which involved working in a team with other fellow students under the supervision of qualified solicitors with the aim of providing free legal advice to members of the public. I also undertook an extra-curricular activity called Digital Justice, which involved creating a web and app-based solution addressing different issues of employment law.
What happens when students and prisoners help one another?
When I left off last time, I was about to submit my final assignment before undertaking the practical pro bono projects. I am happy to report that I met the deadline and received some fantastic feedback that has assisted me in undertaking the projects. Having decided to separate the remaining portions of the blog; one for each project I have taken part in and a conclusion this blog will focus on my time in prison (and not for a crime).