As the lockdown restrictions ease, clinics may begin to consider whether to continue free legal advice sessions online or revert back to face to face services. While remote services have enabled some clients to access pro bono clinics, digital exclusion remains a barrier for many. Re-opening premises will depend on many factors, including volunteer engagement. For some clinics, hybrid models will present a new way of working and partnerships with frontline organisations to support clients on-site where necessary will be invaluable.
Speakers from RCJ Advice, Support Through Court (STC), the Free Legal Advice Group for Domestic Violence, Royal Holloway University of London and Plymouth Citizens Advice gave an overview of their respective projects and the ways in which they support clients to access their services.
Manjit Raj from Support Through Court and Georgina Kerby from RCJ Advice elaborated on their joint ‘Safe Spaces Project’, which was due to launch when the pandemic hit. The two organisations are working together to provide a ‘safe space’ at the family courts in London and Nottingham for litigants in person to have access to a computer or tablet through which they can safely contact STC or RCJ Advice volunteer if they cannot do so from home.
The Free Legal Advice Group for Domestic Violence provides free family law advice to victims of domestic abuse or violence. Laura Hunter stressed the importance of working with frontline organisations most likely to provide a face to face service, such as community centres and foodbanks, who can support clients to connect with volunteer solicitors remotely.
In partnership with Creighton and Partners Solicitors, the Royal Holloway University of London Legal Advice Centre has set up a remote clinic advising prisoners of HMP Coldingley on family matters. Greg Smith, Molly Chappell and Remi Gruszka elaborated on the different considerations to be made when providing a remote service and on how the prisoners are supported by an on-site family worker to access the advice.
David Tully at Citizens Advice Plymouth outlined their ‘webcam clinic’ set up together with University House Legal Advice Centre and Charles Russell Speechlys in London to facilitate the provision of free legal advice where this is not available locally. David further outlined a framework of remote supervision and its benefits.
We have collated a list of organisations and resources that support and promote remote/digital access to services:
- Online Centres Network ‘find a centre’ search function. Brought together by Good Things Foundation, the Online Centres Network is made up of over 5,000 grassroots organisations working to tackle digital and social exclusion by providing people with the skills and confidence they need to access digital technology. Clinics can also join the Good Things Foundation network to take advantage of training webinars and funding opportunities. Please find further information here: Joining the Online Centres Network.pdf
- Superhighways offers advice, training and IT support to help small charities and community organisations across London be more effective, raise their profile and demonstrate their impact using digital technology. They further have a useful ‘Latest digital technology tips’ page, which includes factsheets and step-by-step guides.
- Citizens Online help organisations ensure the switch to online doesn't exclude people. They also operate a Free Digital Support Helpline (0808 196 5883) that helps individuals to get started using technology or want to build confidence to do more online? A trained digital champion will call back and offer friendly, patient support over the phone.
Comments and links to further resources shared by attendees can be found at our Clinics Forum