Addleshaw Goddard is ramping up its commitment to pro bono with the announcement last month of its involvement in two new initiatives.
The firm, alongside Clifford Chance, has teamed up with the National Autistic Society (NAS) in an educational alliance that will provide free legal representation for parents of autistic children. It has also announced a three-year partnership with The Prince’s Trust North West.
Addleshaws will work with parents of autistic children who are challenging decisions regarding their children’s educational needs, made by their local education authorities, at the Special Educational Needs & Disability Tribunal (Sendist).
Addleshaws will help parents at tribunals by giving them advice and support in preparing their case, identifying witnesses and representing them at the tribunal in conjunction with the NAS, an organisation designed to champion the rights and interests of people with autism to ensure they and their families receive quality services appropriate to their needs.
The high number of cases that go before Sendist reflects how many parents with autistic children struggle to get the right kind of educational provision. Susan Garrett, Addleshaws litigation partner and head of the firm’s five-strong NAS pro bono team, noted that the tribunal process can be very daunting for a layperson. “The tribunal process is very demanding, even if one is eligible for legal aid. It’s even harder for those who have to find the money for the tribunal process themselves.”
The pro bono team has undertaken six months of specialist training to ensure that it understands as much as it can about how the tribunal works. Garrett explains: “Training has included presentations given by speech therapists and information from a number of parents on how the tribunal process runs. One element has included learning about autism and the issues that face the child.”
At a launch to celebrate Addleshaws’ involvement in the alliance in May, the firm hosted an art exhibition by children attending the Robert Ogden Open School in South Yorkshire, one of the NAS’s six specialist schools for young people with autism. “The alliance with Clifford Chance and NAS was a chance to put something back into the region,” says Garrett.
It has been a win-win situation for everybody involved, helping the volunteer lawyers to develop legal and advocacy skills, and they, in turn, provide so much help to the families involved.”
The firm’s partnership with The Prince’s Trust North West will see Addleshaws support the charity to enable more young people to overcome barriers through training, mentoring and financial assistance. Several activities are in the pipeline and innovative fundraising events are soon to be announced.