Birmingham Law School wins prestigious award for Pro Bono services to the community

The University of Birmingham’s Law School has been recognised for its services to the community, assisting individuals and groups in need from across Birmingham and further afield, gain access to free legal advice.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright with University of Birmingham Law School representativesFrom left to right: Jeremy Wright QC (the Attorney General); Linden Thomas (Solicitor and Lecturer at Birmingham Law School); Christopher Walker; Elliot Mountfield; Sacha Hibbitt (undergraduate law students at Birmingham Law School).

The prize for ‘Best Contribution by a Law School’ at the LawWorks and Attorney General’s Pro Bono Awards is in recognition of the work carried out by the Law School’s Pro Bono Group, which consists of over 200 student volunteers each year and runs 14  separate projects, including a free legal advice service in Birmingham.

The Group, which forms part of the School’s Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research (CEPLER) was presented with their award by the Attorney General at the House of Commons last week.

Professor Robert Lee, Head of Birmingham Law School said:

‘The Pro Bono programmes within the Law School allow everyone to gain. People in great need are given ready access to advice and assistance at what is often a moment of crisis.

‘At the same time, students under the careful supervision of qualified lawyers see how law works in the real world and learn things that could never be taught in a classroom.

‘Of course, this involves considerable work from the law firms and chambers with whom we work as well as the students and staff of the School but, ultimately this effort is very rewarding.’

The Pro Bono Group runs the Birmingham Free Legal Advice Group, a LawWorks clinic run by the university in collaboration with No5 Chambers; Mills & Reeve LLP and Shakespeare Martineau LLP, supporting people on a range of  areas including family law, wills and probate, employment law; personal injuries;  contract disputes; landlord and tenant issues and discrimination.

Professor Lee added: ‘A significant part of the Group’s success is down to our partnership working. There are a number of local law firms and chambers; charities and advice agencies that support our work and advise our students.’

The Group’s other projects include providing casework and research support for the Birmingham Community Law Centre and running workshops at SIFA Fireside, a charity which supports people who are homeless or dependent on drugs and alcohol. Student volunteers raise awareness on topics ranging from debt awareness to employment benefits and rights for EU migrants.

Nationally, the Group has contributed their Pro Bono services to the Criminal Appeals Assistance Unit, by undertaking work on cases of alleged miscarriage of justice referred by the Centre for Criminal Appeals.

They also take referrals from the charity the Environmental Law Foundation, providing advice to individuals and community groups on environmental law. 

And on the global stage, the group has taken on its first international project in conjunction with Oxfam, Greenpeace and Action4Justice, researching and writing content for a website that will be later used as an international resource on how to conduct public interest litigation.

The Group was also shortlisted for the award for ‘Best New Pro Bono Activity’ for a project in which students deliver weekly presentations to users of the Midlands (West) Employment Tribunal, providing guidance on procedure and process to users who are representing themselves through the Tribunal process.

The Group has also been shortlisted for the Experian Award for Building Stronger Communities, one of Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Awards.  The Responsible Business Awards ceremony will take place at The Royal Albert Hall in July.  

Since the Pro Bono Group was established in 2008:

  • Over 800 student volunteers have engaged in delivering over 4000 hours of pro bono services
  • The Birmingham Free Legal Advice Group, the largest of the Pro Bono Group’s projects, has advised over 225 clients
  • Over 850 hours of practising solicitors’ and barristers’ time has been given on a pro bono basis to supervise our students working with the community
  • Over 1000 people have benefited from the Groups’ work.