Oliver Haddock of RadcliffesLeBrasseur provides an insight into the volunteering services at Battersea Legal Advice Centre.
What is the name of the scheme in which you participate and what does it entail?
I am one of several trainees at RadcliffesLeBrasseur (RLB) who, together with a qualified supervisor, regularly volunteer at the Battersea Legal Advice Centre (BLAC). This is an initiative which RLB has supported for over ten years.
BLAC assists members of the local community with employment, private housing and general consumer matters and is one of four centres run by South West London Law Centres (SWLLC).
SWLLC run up to 16 pro bono clinics a week across their network. Last year volunteers from several City firms provided advice and support to nearly 4,500 members of local communities. SWLLC expects to see the numbers seeking this type of assistance rise dramatically over the next twelve months.
As volunteers, we are provided with appointment sheets on arrival at the centre and clients are allocated according to our own knowledge and experience. SWLLC do not impose strict time limits on client appointments, this allows us the time to listen to the client, consider solutions (both practical and legal) and advise any appropriate action.
What benefits do you think the scheme provides to those who receive the services?
The scheme provides an essential lifeline to members of local communities who may otherwise have no recourse to any sort of legal advice or assistance.
In a society as diverse as London, it is of little surprise that many clients attending the centres find themselves locked out of many public support networks as a result of a language barrier or lack of IT skills. Volunteers are able to provide information regarding access to CAB, ACAS and Ombudsman services.
One cannot overestimate the impact that this advice may have, especially when an individual’s home or livelihood is at risk
What benefits do you get from participating in the scheme?
Each appointment provides volunteers with a great opportunity to improve vital client care skills, enhance their ability to analyse information provided to them and pinpoint salient issues.
It can be immensely rewarding to feel that you have truly helped the clients you have seen.
What do you enjoy about the scheme and what do you find challenging about the scheme?
A major challenge is quickly getting to grips with the variety of issues, understanding how they impact upon the client sat before you and thinking of solutions, whether legal or practical, to help them. Getting from problem to solution is immensely enjoyable.
The clients are understandably often emotional about their problems and this requires sensitivity. It can be difficult having to provide advice that the clients may not want to hear. Equally, the gratitude that is invariably shown towards you following an appointment is very positive.
Finding time to dedicate to pro bono work is always challenging for young lawyers, but the sense of achievement following a clinic makes it worthwhile.
What is the importance for you in doing pro bono work and why would you encourage others to get involved?
RLB’s long-term association with BLAC and SWLLC is testament to the firm’s on-going commitment to corporate social responsibility initiatives.
On a personal level, I am very aware of the privileged position in which I find myself as a result of my professional skills and training. In the wake of further cuts to Legal Aid and generally, it is incredibly important that we in the legal community come together and use our skills at clinics such as this to help others less fortunate than ourselves.
BLAC currently has to turn away nearly 50% of individuals seeking advice due to a lack of available volunteers. I would therefore strongly encourage any young legal professional interested in both improving their own skills and making a real difference to those in need to consider contributing to pro bono schemes such as BLAC.