First we heard from Olivia Mowll, Olivia coordinates Public Law Project's Welfare Rights Specialist Support Hub. Her role is intended to increase the availability and accessibility of legal information and specialist social welfare and public law advice. Olivia joined PLP from Bristol Law Centre where she was a caseworker in the welfare benefits team representing claimants in First-tier and Upper Tribunal appeals.
Olivia provided attendees with a powerful, personal perspective. She stressed the importance of using appropriate language and the difficulties of keeping on top of new and changing terminology. Olivia believes it is best not to make assumptions, and to take care around using gendered language.
University of Essex
We then heard from Lee Hansen, Deputy Law Clinic Director at the University of Essex, and Annabel Pike, student co-ordinator of the University's LBGT+ clinic. Lee previously worked as a community lawyer in Australia, which included a role providing legal services to LGBTQ+ community of New South Wales. Since arriving in Essex, he has also founded the Law Clinic’s LGBTQ+ Rights Project, which involves a range of initiatives with the local LGBTQ+ community.
Annabel is a postgraduate student at the University of Essex currently studying an LLM in International Human Rights Law. She has worked with the Essex Law Clinic since the start of her undergraduate programme in 2017 and has been involved in the Clinic's LGBTQ+ Rights Project throughout this time.
The project is made up of 12 students and sits within the wider Essex Law Clinic of 235 students. The benefits to the students working in the project came in the shape of
- Access to specialist training sessions
- Experience in the field
- Research skills
- Future employability
As part of their Public Legal Education work the students have developed training with Metro (an Essex based HIV charity), podcasts and scripts on PLE LGBTQ+ parenting and the law.
Looking ahead, Lee felt that there were opportunities for collaboration with partners across areas such as:
- Unmet needs
- Written legal information materials
- Identifying further benefits for students in networking with other LBGTQ+ students, academics across institutions and pro bono practitioners
Annabel outlined the factsheets that the Essex Law Clinic have developed to to help members of the LGBTQ+ community identify their legal problems and resolve some issues without the need to see an advisor. These include:
- The process for name change
- Rights of transgender children and parental responsibility
- LGBTQ+ relationship breakdown
- The Equality Act for LGBTQ+ people
- Employment Law and transgender rights
University of Hertfordshire
Next we heard from Amanda Thurston, Director University of Hertfordshire Law Clinic, and Diana Kirsch, Associate Dean of Enterprise at the University. Amanda teaches on the Clinical Legal Education module at the University of Hertfordshire. Until recently she was also a part-time family law solicitor. The law clinic was set up in October 2019 by Diana who oversees all the pro bono projects. The Clinic has gradually expanded to now offer advice in relation to Family, Commercial, Employment, Housing, Property and Contract/Consumer law. In April it launched its LGBT+ clinic with support from the Law Society’s LGBT+ Division and TOKKO Youth Space (a charity in Luton). In the run up to launch they discussed the sensitive issues around branding for the clinic, giving consideration to:
- What to call it
- What should the logo be
- Should the ‘Q’ be included in the name?
- Should they use the rainbow symbol?
Collaboration and consultation with established groups in the university helped them resolve these issues. In the development phase they also identified some specific legal issues to focus on:
- Change of Name
- Health Care advocacy e.g., advice about puberty blockers
- Gender recognition certificates
- Discrimination around e.g. work or housing.
Amanda also noted that when setting up the clinic, trying to develop external links and partnerships had been a challenge in Hertfordshire and led them to looking outside the county. However, they found that resources and connections they had through students and existing clinics proved to be of great value.
Diana then talked about student training. All students had training on understanding issues relevant to the community. TOKKO Youth Space helped by providing training on trans awareness and terminology. There was also training on the use of pronouns and unconscious bias. They took the decision to train all students, not just those working in the LGBT+ clinic. They also ran a session on leading lawyers who worked on LGBT+ cases.
For anyone considering setting up a LGBT+ clinic they gave the following tips:
- Start planning early - everything takes longer than you think
- Maximise your LawWorks and CLEO contacts - talk to people who have already done it
- Utilise your existing connections - see who can help you
Queen Mary University of London
The last speaker was Frances Ridout, Director of the Legal Advice Centre at Queen Mary University of London Pink Law Project and a practising barrister. France teaches two undergraduate degree LAC modules; The Practice of Law in a Clinical Environment, and StreetLaw. Frances is an expert in the current law surrounding the sharing of intimate images, and regularly speaks on this topic. She shared the learning from running the Pink Law Clinic, which was established in 2010.
Frances outlined areas of good practice that needed to be taken into account, for example:
- Unconscious bias training and LGBT+ training for both staff and students
- Accessing relevant courses that may be provided by your academic institution
- Identifying blind spots
- Diversity forms and case detail forms - being conscious about which pronouns to use
- Language and abbreviations - inclusion of 'Q'?
- Accessible facilities for clients
The clinic focuses on providing advice in relation to Family and Immigration law. The clinic provides one-off pieces of advice to clients, with a letter following an appointment. The clinic also produces leaflets for Stonewall and Galop. Commonly arising queries include legal parenthood, visa queries, civil partnerships, surrogacy, and discrimination.
Since its inception, the project has made positive impacts on the culture of both QMLAC and the Law School, as well as within the local borough's LGBT groups. They are able to demonstrate that they are a safe space and have made the clinic more approachable for LGBT+ clients in general, not just those seeking support on specific LGBT+ related issues.
Looking at the challenges that the project faces, Frances identified that recently there had been a drop in enquiries, and wondered whether having a specific social media presence for the service would help clients to identify and access the clinic. Frances also noted how they undertake a review and reflect each year on the clinic's operation and policies, and will be using this opportunity to revisit the appropriateness of the clinic's name and whether there should be a requirement to have a member of the LGBT+ community on the project advisory team.
Further notes and helpful links shared during the discussion were posted in the LawWorks Clinics Network forum.