access to justice

Four ways your firm can support access to justice

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare what the Free Legal Advice Sector has feared and warned about for many years. Inadequate funding has caused free legal advice provision to remain fragile and inconsistent nationwide, leaving frontline charities faced with increasing calls for immediate support, as resources shrink.

Advice deserts are a growing concern with many people falling through the cracks, losing their homes, health, families, and livelihoods, often only because they cannot access the necessary assistance early enough.

Rising energy bills and interest rates are making matters worse, with many of those forced to choose between heating and eating already unable to afford paid for legal advice. However, there are many ways law firms can help build a fairer society by supporting the Free Legal Advice Sector which brings access to justice to the country’s most marginalised people.

The Access to Justice Foundation is the UK’s only charity solely focused on strategically allocating and making grant funding for free legal advice charities who help people stay in work, enforce their legal rights to welfare benefits, keep rooves over their heads, and escape domestic abuse, to name a few. The Foundation’s knowledge and understanding of the national landscape ensures grants are assigned to where the need is greatest, but also means resources can be best allocated in your local area.

Here are 4 ways your law firm can support the work of the Access to Justice Foundation and improve thousands of lives in the process:

1) Residual client balances

If residual balances that cannot be returned to a client despite your firm’s reasonable efforts are found when reviewing client account balance ledgers, your firm can donate them to the Access to Justice Foundation.

Donations like this are permitted by SRA Account Rules and the CLC Accounts Code. Clearing these balances meets compliance requirements by ensuring balances are not held for longer than necessary. These donations are risk-free, as an SRA approved indemnity is available; if clients are traced later on, the indemnified donations can be returned to your firm.

For more information, please contact Lynne Squires Development Director at the Access to Justice Foundation or direct line 020 4522 8414.

2) Join a Legal Walk

Joining a Legal Walk in your area is a great way to bring the local legal profession together to fundraise for a good cause, whether lawyers, cashiers, or admin staff, anyone from your firm is welcome. From Cambridge to Cardiff, Exeter to Edinburgh, Birmingham to Bristol, Legal Walks take place up and down the country. These events are not only enjoyable, but also present your team with a chance to socialise together and build rapport.

The walks also offer a fantastic opportunity to re-introduce your firm to the wider community after an extended period of lockdown. Moreover, the visibility could help encourage people who might need legal services but are unaware of who to speak to, to come forward and approach your firm.

In a similar way, though the focus is to fundraise for the Free Legal Advice Sector, these events also raise awareness of the fantastic work the sector does, and available support that people in your community who cannot afford to pay for legal services could benefit from.

3) Volunteer with a regional committee

Volunteering with one of the Foundation’s regional fundraising committees is a fantastic way for new lawyers to meet and learn from others in the legal profession while supporting access to justice. In addition, volunteers can learn more about the Free Legal Advice Sector and develop leadership and other transferable skills by helping facilitate the Foundation’s local activities. Our committees are active in the Midlands, Yorkshire, North East, North West, South West and Eastern England, as well as in Scotland and Wales. Why not encourage your firm’s more junior staff to consider adding to their resume by volunteering with the Foundation?

4) Pro bono costs orders

Many law firms provide pro bono services to those in need. Despite doing this admirable work, however, many pro bono lawyers are unaware that they can do twice the good by seeking a pro bono costs order.

Pro bono costs are like any other legal costs but apply when a party has had free legal representation. When a civil case is won with pro bono assistance, the court can order pro bono costs; they can also be included in settlements. The costs cover any time where free representation was received, and the amount is based on what would be recovered from a paying client. Any pro bono costs ordered are automatically donated to the Access to Justice Foundation.

Your firm may be able to do all four of these, but even one of them could help change the lives of thousands of people for the better.

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