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East London firm Wiseman Lee has teamed up with West Ham United Football Club to run a free legal advice clinic. It is the first time in the UK that a legal clinic has been run in conjunction with a football club.
The scheme kicked off in April 2003, when associate legal executive and West Ham fan Peter Coleman approached the club with the idea. The clinics run every second Tuesday, from 11am to 2pm, in the firm’s corporate box. Six of the firm’s lawyers, including three partners, staff the centre on a rota basis.
The local authority has helped promote the scheme, distributing leaflets around libraries and local churches, and the clinic is advertised in the West Ham match programme.
So far the firm’s lawyers have advised drop-in clients on family law, consumer disputes and even some crime. While it is not as busy as Citizens Advice Bureaux, the clinic advises up to half-a-dozen clients per session. Clients are mainly from East London, although Coleman revealed that the clinic “once had somebody come up from Essex”.
The clinics are not run solely out of altruism. “Of course, we’d like the clinic clients to instruct us later,” admits Coleman. “I’ve had two jobs out of it so far.”
With offices in Wanstead, East Ham, Walthamstow and Manor Park, Wiseman Lee is an East London institution.
Almost every one of the firm’s 13 partners is active in pro bono work, whether at the West Ham clinic or in another of the firm’s pro bono initiatives. “We’re in the heart of the East End,” says Coleman. “We have to be community minded.”
Lawyers fit their pro bono activities around their paid work, and the firm is supportive of their personal pro bono crusades. Partner Paul Kaufman undertakes occasional work for Liberty, while junior partner Umresh Desai advises local mosques and temples.
The West Ham advice clinic aside, Wiseman Lee lawyers are no strangers to novel pro bono schemes. The firm runs a one-hour advice centre at a local council-run mother and baby group. The Home Start Clinic is run out of a local church, and Coleman, alongside partner Jonathan Diamond, provides housing and family law advice to local mothers.
The Lawyer verdict
Wiseman Lee shows that pro bono programmes need not be complex to be effective. This is grass-roots pro bono work at its best, being small in scale and catering to the local community.
True, advice centres such as the West Ham clinic dwell in the hazy zone between pro bono and business development. But if the firm wins work out of its pro bono initiatives, all the better for all concerned. Everybody scores.