The increasing emphasis on commercial law in the Legal Practice Course may make it difficult for trainee solicitors in City firms to undertake pro bono work in law centres.
“The new course is more focused towards City law firms,” comments one, adding that new trainees need to receive some training in family law, crime and landlord and tenant law before they could handle advice sessions. And some are calling on City firms to organise joint programmes in such subjects if they want to promote pro bono work.
It is not a problem for some law centres, such as Camden, to take on advisers who are qualified.
Others, such as Tower Hamlets provide training. Sandhya Drew, a barrister at Tower Hamlets, says they have daytime sessions for trainees. She says there is a growing dividing line as to what type of law trainees do. However, many City firms send trainees to Tower Hamlets law centre as it gives them “the ability to deal with cases that might not be covered in their traineeship”. However, she adds, “we make sure the work is properly supervised.”
The problem of putting trainees into law centres without appropriate training is a problem that has always existed to some extent, says Andy Unger, a lecturer on the LPC course at South Bank University. “If you had not done family law in your degree but a bit of divorce in your finals, I'm not sure the advice you'd give would be good anyway.”
He says most advice centres use trainees to interview clients and then pass them on to a lawyer but adds that if City firms are looking to support trainees to work in law centres “they need proper training”. And he points to the Free Representation Unit, set up by the Bar, which has “quite a good training programme”.
Clifford Chance partner Tony Willis is in charge of the firm's pro bono initiatives. He does not see lack of knowledge on subjects such as crime and family law as presenting a problem for his firm's trainees. “People who go to advice centres are going for advice as to sources. It is more of a referral service than anything else,” he says. Nor does the lack of training discourage trainees from working in law centres, he adds. “The proof is that lots of our people do work in law centres and training is given in the law centres.”
However, trainees point out that not all law centres have such resources. Those most in need of help often do not have the capacity to train. One trainee in such a centre says he finds himself having to train some of the recruits.
He suggests: “It would be a help if some of the City firms got together and set up some joint programmes such as bringing in family law barristers to give lectures on particular points.”