CHARITY PARTNER

Free Representation Unit

The Free Representation Unit (FRU) has been described as the first organised attempt to deliver pro bono legal services from a base within the legal profession. FRU was created by law students in 1972. We combine providing an essential representation service to vulnerable clients, with training the lawyers of the future.

FRU is a registered charity. Each year we represent hundreds of clients in social security and employment tribunals. These tribunals were originally designed to be accessible to litigants in person but in practice are intimidating proceedings that rely on knowledge of the law and legal process. Ninety percent of our volunteers are aspiring solicitors or barristers who require real legal experience to help them to obtain a training contract or pupillage. The remainder of our volunteers are solicitors and barristers in practice, looking to develop their skills or to undertake pro bono work. We believe that gaining FRU experience helps to level the playing field for aspiring lawyers from non-traditional legal backgrounds.

How FRU works

All our clients are vulnerable, either through their situation, or by reason of sickness or disability for example. They cannot afford to pay for representation.

We deal with two areas of law; employment and social security. Both are legally complex but do not require rights of audience and Legal Aid has never been available for representation before these tribunals. This makes them ideal jurisdictions for training junior lawyers but with huge unmet need in the provision of legal services. We employ 5 legal officers to train and support our volunteers, 2 of who are paid interns who are building their own legal career.

Each year we help hundreds of clients. Many social security clients are sick or disabled. Their benefits are based on being awarded points. They are often referred having been awarded zero points, even if they have previously received the same benefit. Our volunteers obtain new evidence and rigorously analyse the criteria. Our written legal submissions are often sufficient to persuade the tribunal to allow the appeal. We are successful in over 80% of these cases and the client could have to wait for 9 months to challenge their decision, living on a reduced income.

Our employment cases range from straightforward unpaid wage claims to complex unfair dismissal, employment status, discrimination or harassment claims. Many of our employment clients are from minority communities in insecure low skilled jobs. We are the only pro bono agency to represent clients in multi-day discrimination hearings.

We are a lean organisation with 6 out of 9 staff being client facing. Each year we represent around 500 clients, train between 800 – 1000 students and we submit experience-based evidence to public policy consultations on relevant legal and justice issues.

We are a small charity with very big ambitions.

FRU supporters

We are supported by many law firms and chambers. We receive grants from the Bar Council and Inns of Court and donations through fundraising. We have clinical legal education partnerships with Nottingham Law School and City University. Each year a fourth seat trainee solicitor is placed with us from Linklaters LLP and every 2 years an extended pupil barrister from Outer Temple Chambers has spent 6 months with us. We welcome more such arrangements and other partnership working where we can help law firms to meet their pro bono commitments.

Much of our income is not secure and we have to raise £500,000 each year with no income from public funds. Our volunteers pay a fee to be trained and they pay their own travel expenses to the office and to the tribunal hearings. We need to be able to pay our legal officers to supervise the volunteer advocates and during the next 12 months we will need to find new office accommodation in central London.

More information

A message from our Charity Partner

FRU is delighted to have been chosen as the official charity partner for The Lawyer Awards 2020. We combine providing access to justice for vulnerable people with training the next generation of lawyers. This recognition for our work is fantastic and we will put all donations to excellent use in developing our service.

David Abbott – CEO