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Colchester law firm Fisher Jones Greenwood has established a pilot charity legal service for young people in Essex, with assistance from the Legal Services Commission (LSC).
The scheme, called Lawyers for Young People, aims to assist young people in the Colchester, Chelmsford and Basildon area who are either in, or formerly in, the care system, or who have family problems.
Fisher Jones associate Liz Frank is overseeing the scheme with assistant Simone Surgenor. However, the LSC is funding the scheme, marking the first time a commercial law firm has been awarded a not-for-profit contract of this nature.
Frank explained that vulnerable young people may need a lawyer if they are separated from their siblings or estranged from their parents, if they need accommodation or services, or if they are having problems with their education.
She said that young people are often not aware that their problems have a legal dimension. "It's often difficult for young people to access solicitors and many find it difficult to pick up the phone, don't know how to go and see them or who to talk to.
"The scheme isn't just about providing law advice, but also about taking the law out to youth groups and other places where vulnerable young people may be. Our aim is to reach out to these people or their carers, to say that there's support for them - which in most cases is free, as it's funded by the Legal Services Commission."
Fisher Jones senior partner Tony Fisher added: "Although there's a huge [legal] focus on children when they first go into the care system, this can often fall off when they've actually entered it. So the service proposed to the Legal Services Commission was one designed to see if we could develop the services more effectively."
To highlight the problems young people face in accessing the law, Lawyers for Young People hosted a discussion event at Matrix Chambers in London in June, which included representatives from the fields of social work, care organisations and the legal profession.
The event was chaired by barrister David Wolfe, while Cherie Booth QC was interviewed on the topic for a podcast available on the firm's website.