Pro Bono work: a win-win for students, businesses and society

Bristol Business School and Bristol Law School at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are involved in Pro Bono work as far afield as Kenya and Uganda, the United States, as well as in the UK. Law and business students – both undergraduates and postgraduates – provide all manner of unpaid assistance to businesses, and individuals who have limited access to legal help. This is a win-win for companies, students, and some individuals who have limited access to help. 

“In this day and age, with the lack of governmental help, Universities who can assist are expected to do so,” explains Marcus Keppel-Palmer, who is Associate Head of Department – Pro Bono, and a Law lecturer. “We have a repository of knowledge, expertise, and students who are keen to acquire experience,” he adds. The numerous voluntary activities, which are led and developed by the students themselves, include the following:

Courts

Offered to individuals with no legal representation, the Law Court Clinics involve Bar students providing on-the-spot assistance to those with no prior knowledge of court proceedings. For two days a week, the postgraduates provide the service alongside a charity at the Bristol Civil Justice Centre. In the same vein, LIP Service (referring to ‘litigants in person’), which UWE Bristol is a part of, raises awareness for those representing themselves, in advance of their hearing. Undergraduates offer training on what to expect in court, what defendants can and cannot ask/do during proceedings, and how to present a case.

Welfare/ Benefits support

Such volunteering also assists those making disability claims. In collaboration with a number of charities and organisations, student volunteers help individuals with the wording in their claims forms to maximise success in receiving or retaining benefits. Legal advice is also provided if an appeal is required,  following an unsuccessful claim. “If your disability benefits are cut, then you can’t afford a lawyer to challenge that, let alone access legal aid because it’s been cut in this area,” says Keppel-Palmer. This work on appeal claims yields almost 100% successful.

Mentoring and Street Law

With a view to helping school pupils learn more about studying Law, first year students from the Law department provide mentoring at schools and colleges in the Bristol area. Pupils can also attend mock trials held at the Bristol Business School’s court rooms. “This Pro Bono activity provides UWE students with additional skills such as public speaking or team work,” says Keppel-Palmer.

Private clients – Elder Law

Teaming up with charities such as Paul’s Place, undergraduate students from Bristol Business School’s law department offer assistance on matters concerning wills, probate and power of attorney.

Businesses

The business school’s Business Advice Clinics involves students providing basic one-to-one accountancy, marketing and legal support for graduate start-ups in Launch Space, UWE Bristol’s graduate incubation space. One accountancy and four law firms assist with this activity. “This provides top quality advice to the Launch Space incubators and, for students, networking opportunities with the firms,” says Keppel-Palmer.

Pro Bono business activities also extend to helping musicians get a foothold in the music industry, where legal knowledge carries weight. BMAS is a system of clinics and one-to-ones run by law students who meet with budding musicians and other creatives from all over the world. The free legal service includes advice on publishing deals, contracts etc.

Crime

Pro Bono work has also enabled volunteers to work with countries in East Africa. With a focus on Kenya and Uganda, the African Prisons Project encourages prisoners to study Law to understand their legal rights. The service enables inmates to be in a stronger position to challenge their cases.

The Anti Death-Penalty Group is aimed at students interested in crime and criminology. This activity enables them to raise awareness about death row by working with a law firm in Virginia (US), where undergraduates can also attend a five-week summer placement. Some have worked on cases involving Guantanamo Bay. “They often come back transformed after meeting death row inmates,” says Keppel-Palmer.

Community Asset Transfer

Closer to home, postgraduate law students offer free legal assistance in projects involving the takeover of public assets by charities. These are long-running projects and the University usually takes on one a year.

Win-win

Bristol Business School’s Pro Bono work provides multiple benefits for all involved. “All these activities provide incalculable benefits for students,” says Keppel-Palmer. “Many find themselves more confident and find that they get jobs out of them. There are also massive amounts of good will generated through the work that is done and that makes people feel good in themselves.”

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