In light of the COVID-19 pandemic no clinics in the LawWorks Clinics Network are currently offering face-to-face advice appointments. On 31st March, the LawWorks Clinics Team facilitated a discussion aimed at providing clinics with practical guidance to continue their crucial services online or via telephone. Over 60 clinic coordinators in England and Wales connected via Zoom to discuss challenges and share learning.
Three clinic coordinators who have recently transformed their face-to-face clinics to provide remote services or whose clinics have always operated remotely elaborated on their experience.
Judi Lincoln, Norfolk Community Law Centre shared the practicalities of moving the centre’s drop in clinic to a telephone service. This remote setup enables volunteers to still represent clients at welfare benefit hearings.
Angela Cahill, BPP University highlighted the role of students and use of Microsoft Teams within the university’s clinics, all of which now operate remotely. Student volunteers carry out interviews via phone while appointments usually take place using Microsoft Teams or Skype, allowing for multiple participants to be involved. Rather than being required to download applications and setting up accounts, clients gain access through a link. Microsoft Teams also for a brief delay between participants in conversation, which avoids interrupting one another. To securely store any clinic document, BPP makes use of Intralinks, a cloud-based storage system provided to clinics free of charge by LawWorks.
Microsoft teams resources
Francine Ryan, Open University coordinates a clinic that has always provided a remote service. Students, advisers and clients connect via Adobe Connect. Similarly to other Microsoft Teams, Adobe Connect allows for clients to join the meeting via an access link. The clinic uses the cloud-based case management system CLIO, which is free for law school clinics via the Academic Access Programme. Francine encouraged clinic advertisement via social media to ensure people in need are aware of the legal advice still available.
During further discussion, a few questions and concerns were addressed collectively:
- How to maintain confidentiality when volunteers/students are using their own equipment? Suggestions include making use of Intralinks to ensure documents are securely stored on shared cloud-based system. Clinic coordinators can additionally ask students/volunteers to confirm deletion of confidential files from their computers once uploaded. This does require a degree of trust and appropriate training.
- Can solicitors still volunteer when furloughed? Yes they can, but this depends on the type of work they are doing. They are still allowed to conduct non-reserved activity. Otherwise, their position will need to be clarified and need to notify the SRA. Further considerations are insurance, conflict checking, confidentiality, record storage etc.
- What about the use of personal laptops? Some clinics will only provide students with client documents that do not contain any personal details or have been anonymised.
- Zoom allows for a ‘client waiting room’ option, which allows for coordinators, supervisors and students to discuss matters privately during the appointment.
Please find below a list of useful information links and resources shared by participants:
- CLIO academic access programme (free use for law school clinics)
- Guidance by the Law Society on the execution of documents by virtual means
- LawWorks GDPR Toolkit
- Remote justice: a family perspective - When changing a service offering, it is important to consider the accessibility and experience of the service user. This article covers a litigant in person’s experience of a remote hearing in the Court of Protection