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Herbert Smith is expanding the scope of its pro bono work to include acting for parents of children with special educational needs. The move follows the launch of the firm's advocacy unit in May.
As part of the new initiative, the firm's associates will provide free advice and advocacy services to parents through the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice (Ipsea).
The Ipsea is a volunteer-based national charity that supports nearly 1,000 parents a year in appeals to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (Sendist). Many of the appeals are against decisions made by local education authorities about children's special educational needs.
Ten associates from Herbert Smith's litigation and arbitration division have undergone a two-day intensive training course run by Ipsea on the relevant law and procedures involved in taking cases before the tribunal.
They will begin acting as advocates on behalf of parents before the Sendist over the next few months, and will be replaced each year by a new group.
Head of Herbert Smith's advocacy unit Murray Rosen QC says: "Herbert Smith already has six or seven pro bono projects, but we were looking for one that would allow us to use our advocacy capability.
"The Sendist is a good-quality tribunal for our young advocates to build their experience. It hears about 2,000 cases a year, many of which take no longer than half a day, and advocates have to get everything right in a very short time period.
"We're helping parents and carers in what can sometimes be a very intimidating and complicated area. The work is a good change for our advocates and is work that the charity relies on."
Rosen also expects that the project will increase the appeal of the firm to newly-qualifieds. "Young lawyers look to build up their experience and it's not always easy to do that in a big firm such as Herbert Smith, where our work tends to be more substantial," he says. "As well as being a chance to help people, working for Ipsea provides a useful range of advocacy opportunities."