By Roisin Hall, Sheffield Hallam Law Student
So, firstly what is pro bono week? The 20th annual Pro bono week takes place this year from the 1st to the 5th of November 2021, the aim of which is to acknowledge those organisations which give free, accessible legal advice to those who need it. Law firms, chambers, legal societies, charities, law schools and universities are prompted to plan events and publish reports for the launch. This therefore leads us on to the topic of this article’s discussion surrounding case funding and how we (SHU law) as a non-profit teaching law firm, bridge the funding gap to help those who need the extra support.
A quick introduction to legal aid and its criteria
It is well known that getting legal advice can be extremely expensive, time consuming and stressful, and not everybody has the assets to hire a solicitor and proceed with the process. This is where legal aid (otherwise known as case funding) comes into play. Legal aid can help with the costs of legal advice, family mediation and representation in court. For legal aid to apply you’ll need to show that: your case is eligible for it, there is a serious problem and that you can’t pay for the legal costs. Eligibility covers civil cases such as debt, family or housing issues and covers funding regarding being questioned at a police station or funding for representation in court if you’re under 16 (or under 18 in fulltime education) or on certain benefits. Legal aid may not be able to cover all the costs of the case meaning some costs will be needed to be made upfront or paying back some of the cost if the case succeeds. However, not everyone can afford to pay anything to support their case meaning legal aid isn’t the best option for case funding and due to the cuts to legal aid funding.
Issues with meeting the criteria
In 1949, 80% of the British public qualified for legal aid, but in 2007 the government made cuts to legal aid meaning only 27% were eligible, in 2013 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) cut the criteria even further. Due to such cuts, there are difficulties for the public to meet the criteria to qualify for case funding along with the lack of legal aid providers. For example, the current system requires applicants to have less than £8,000 in capital assets, including that shared with a partner. This is a massive issue for those who may be escaping an abusive relationship or seeking custody of their children as they may be unable to meet the criteria.
Alternatives to legal aid (LASPO)
As the eligibility for legal aid has increased and funding has decreased, alternatives have been implemented in order to fully support and recognise those who don’t meet the criteria otherwise known as Pro- Bono work. Such alternatives include: The Law Centres Network, who ‘offer legal advice, casework and representation to individuals and groups. Spotting local trends and issues in the course of their work, they highlight them to bring about necessary policy changes and to prevent future problems’ Another alternative is the Citizens Advice Bureau who offer free advice ranging from benefits, work, debts to law and immigration.
Pro- bono work at SHU Law
Here at SHU law, we firmly believe in the importance of accessible legal advice for all. Our Ethos is ‘to provide a platform for education and to widen access to justice this unique approach enables us to take on cases that other firms may not be able to’. We aim to bridge the costs of legal funding by meeting the needs of those who can’t afford a solicitor to fight their case and represent them or for those who seek cost-effective legal services so they can achieve their goals and we are a non-profit teaching law firm. Our team consists of solicitors and students presenting you with the best services and support we can give. We offer advice and help regarding different areas of law such as Prison law, criminal appeals, employment law, commercial dispute resolution, personal injury, and small claims Although we are a pro-bono firm, some costs may be incurred for professional or specialist advice such as a medical report.
Unfortunately, legal costs are still an ongoing process making it even harder for those to access legal advice, meaning the importance and recognition for pro-bono work and support is extremely important in order to help those who need it. We (SHU Law) like many other organisations strive to bridge the gap of legal funding by presenting you with fairer costs and the utmost support throughout your legal journey.