Pro Bono In Practice: 'Video Conferencing and Pro Bono Clinics'

The Clinics team discuss the benefits of video conferencing and how technology can extend pro bono's reach.

Video-conferencing technology provides an opportunity to extend pro bono’s reach far beyond populated centres into local communities across the country, and into areas of unmet legal need. In addition to helping to reduce geographic barriers to accessing advice for clients, this model can also increase the range of opportunities available for participation by pro bono lawyers.

In recent years, LawWorks has worked in collaboration with law schools, student societies, lawyers, advice agencies and technology partners on the launch of new clinics utilising video-conferencing for the delivery of pro bono legal advice.

The technology is able to aid the delivery of pro bono in a variety of ways. Clinics in Australia and the United States, for example, have been able to use video-conferencing to facilitate the provision of legal advice into hospitals. In other contexts lawyers based in a central location have been able to deliver advice via video-conference into a network of community agencies across an extensive geographic area. In another case a city-based clinic was able to extend its provision into a poorly served rural community.

A particular model that we have been working on with our partners is advice delivered by lawyers via Skype with law students providing support on the client end of the call. Under this model lawyers need not leave their own offices, thereby cutting out travel time and making for a most efficient use of their time. Having assisted with the session set up, the students meet and greet clients in person at the venue. They then sit through the session, providing practical support and troubleshooting through any problems with the computer equipment should they arise. 

One component of this model, is that the session from the client’s end takes place in an advice agency or law school as opposed to the client’s home. The agency is also able to refer clients into the service and to collect relevant information to be provided for the lawyers prior to the session. Examples of video conferencing used in clinics include the following;

Brent Citizens Advice have been providing a weekly Skype Pro Bono Advice Clinic in employment and immigration law since late 2013. Clients are supported throughout by students of BPP Law School. Lawyers from Clyde & Co provide advice via Skype from their office in Central London. The service has been well received by all stakeholders and has been able to increase with this time the number of people it helps.

Another exemplar project is a partnership between Onside Advocacy and Worcester College Law School – “Access to Justice Worcester” launched in December 2014 which piloted a clinic relying initially on one rural lawyer participating by Skype and growing the success of the pilot by drawing in local practitioners as well as others via Skype. It offers weekly clinic advice across a range of areas of social welfare law including housing, child and family law. In 2015, BPP Law School in Leeds also expanded their clinic with advice appointments provided via Skype by solicitors from local law firm, Clarion. The clinic’s first client required advice on a complex contentious probate matter and was based in Australia, whilst another client was based in the US but needed advice on English divorce law. The clinic was runner up for Best New Student Activity at the LawWorks & Attorney General Student Pro Bono Awards 2015.

Other initiatives include Durham University Pro Bono Society (DUPS) which joined with Citizens Advice County Durham to offer a weekly Pro Bono Advice Clinic in employment. Law students from DUPS sit in and facilitate the sessions, with Solicitors from Newcastle delivering advice by Skype. A Skype clinic at Wiltshire Law Centre, Swindon, was launched to provide employment law advice to the local community via Skype with the support of an employment lawyer based at Avon & Bristol Law Centre. LawWorks Cymru are also encouraging the clinics network in Wales to harness web-conferencing technology; a pilot is being trialled as part of the Cardiff Employment Clinic with Cardiff based lawyers reaching out to clients in Aberystwyth – a model that could be used for other hard to reach areas and advice deserts within Wales.

If any readers are interested in volunteering in a Skype clinic, developing a new clinic or using the technology in an existing pro bono project please get in touch with the clinics team at [email protected] .

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