BPP goes all-out on pro bono with launch of SPBG scheme

BPP Law School is ramping up its commitment to pro bono work with the launch of a dedicated pro bono centre and the signing of the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG) Joint Protocol for Pro Bono Legal Work last month.

The move follows the appointment of the law school’s first pro bono director earlier this year. Kara Irwin, formerly of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, has become BPP’s first ever pro bono coordinator.

The Pro Bono Centre is piloting a series of novel pro bono initiatives, ranging from legal advice clinics to a programme in which students shadow City lawyers in their pro bono assignments and research into policy.

The flagship initiative under the Pro Bono Centre will be the BPP Legal Advice Clinic, where students will interview and advise clients on legal problems in the areas of employment, housing, family and consumer law. The clinic, which opened on 31 March, operates weekly on Wednesday nights out of BPP’s Holborn offices. Coudert Brothers and Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw have pledged their support to the programme, and will supervise students’ pro bono work.

The centre is also teaming up with City firms to assign law students to assist solicitors with their pro bono assignments. One proposal will see students accompany Steptoe & Johnson solicitors to their advice sessions at St Hilda’s Community Centre and then attend the firm’s offices to help with follow-up work.

Under the Mediation Friends Project, law students trained in mediation will provide free help to unrepresented parties in mediation.

The pro bono centre will also coordinate projects for the Citizenship Foundation, an educational charity designed to improve awareness among schoolchildren of the law, democracy and society.

Among other activities under the umbrella of the new centre is a speaker series, in which speakers from law firms, barristers chambers and non-profit organisations can discuss their pro bono work with students.

At the launch of the Pro Bono Centre, Sue Bucknall, executive director of the SPBG, noted that BPP was the first law school to work to provide pro bono opportunities to all of its students in all courses.

Research by The Lawyer’s sister publication Lawyer 2B has shown that, of the top 20 universities in the UK, the majority do not run pro bono activities for their students. Most claimed that lack of interest from law students was the reason for the failure. Professor Stephen Shute of Birmingham University, which does not offer pro bono activities, said: “I’d question to what extent undergraduates have the time, inclination and experience to offer meaningful advice.”

However, Irwin at BPP disagrees. “Students are keen to get their hands on practical legal experience,” she insists. “Pro bono allows them to meet clients, to network with qualified lawyers in City firms and to assist on the pro bono programmes of those firms. Everyone benefits.”