Law students providing free benefit appeal service maintain winning start
Pro Bono Legal Advocacy Support Project has won four cases
Emma Goodwin, Pro Bono Director at Manchester Law School at Manchester Metropolitan University; student Samantha Mayer; Greater Manchester Law Centre supervising caseworker Giles Elliott; student Ciara Bartlam
A project in which law students provide free legal advocacy, representing clients at a tribunal, has maintained its 100 per cent winning start.
Four Manchester Metropolitan University students took on the cases of individuals who were due to have their Employment and Support Allowance reduced or removed by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The students represented their clients at appeal hearings and in each case successfully won a reversal of the Department’s decision, meaning the clients will continue to receive their benefit payments.
The work is part of a Pro Bono Legal Advocacy Support Project (LASP) under which volunteer students recruited from Manchester Law School – a number soon increasing to eight - are trained and supervised by staff at the Greater Manchester Law Centre on Princess Road, Moss Side.
It is thought to be just the second LASP of its type in the country.
Catherine Little, Head of Manchester Law School at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “The project gives our students a fantastic opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they have from the classroom to a practical situation.”
Emma Goodwin, Pro Bono Director at Manchester Law School at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “We’re very proud of our students and they have a 100% success rate.
“Through this project, they are able to represent people even before they are qualified, which is a great learning opportunity for them, and they get to positively affect the outcome for the clients.
“In the majority of pro bono work that law students can do, they don’t actually get to represent clients in court or tribunals but rather mainly conduct interviews and research.
“On this project, our students spend many hours on the client’s case, do all the case preparation, liaise with the client and then take the case to the tribunal, representing them in person before a judge.
“Legal aid for these type of cases has been withdrawn and so clients would normally have had to represent themselves, some may not be able to do this properly, and without the help of our students, it is likely many more would simply have to live with the wrong decision.”
Training, then tribunal
The students from Manchester Law School, three of whom are on the Bar Professional Training Course for barristers and one who is on the Graduate Diploma in Law conversion course for graduates, started training earlier in the year and the first tribunal hearing for them was on May 17.
They worked one day a week at the law centre, committing a minimum of four hours a week to progressing their client’s case.
Their four successful tribunal appeals were heard at Manchester Civil Justice Centre.
Student Samantha Mayer said: “Being part of the LASP scheme at Greater Manchester Law Centre has been an amazing experience, which has enabled me to put theory into practice almost immediately, by taking on work that really makes a difference to people at a very difficult time in their lives.
“Getting to do all aspects of the case from meeting clients, to legal research to appearing at a tribunal means you get to really know a case and the client.
“I was so nervous the day before the tribunal, I knew that either way the decision would have a massive impact on my client's life and I wanted to be sure I had done everything possible to ensure a good outcome for her.
“When we found out we had won the case, I almost burst into tears.”
Taking the strain
Samantha’s client Jannah Murphy said: “The support and assistance that I received from Sam Mayer and the team gave me reassurance and made me feel like a real person.
“When I contacted the Law Centre I was at the lowest I had ever been due to my health deteriorating and financial stress.
“I was shown compassion and Sam completed all the relevant paperwork and put my case together, taking more strain off my shoulders.
“Without them I would not have known where to turn or how to move forward with my tribunal. It is an absolutely amazing service.”
Hard work and empathy
Greater Manchester Law Centre’s Giles Elliott, supervising caseworker, said: “It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with the students from the School of Law.
“Their ability to quickly grasp the details of what, for them, is a new area of law has been impressive, as is the quality of the work they have undertaken on behalf of our clients.
“They bring a high level of dedication and commitment to their work which is, I know, grounded in their empathy for our clients, and a determination to help those clients overturn extraordinarily unjust decisions.
“Coming from outside the world of social welfare law, they have brought fresh eyes to aspects of cases that we have come to accept as the norm.
“Their presence at the Law Centre has changed clients’ lives and enriched the work of the Law Centre.”