Staffordshire University’s Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) has been running for almost two years now, after the launch in October 2018. Tracey Horton, Senior Lecturer in Law with a background working as a Solicitor, is the SULAC Manager and couldn’t be more pleased with how it has been going so far.
SULAC is run as a 30-credit module in the final year of our LLB degrees. SULAC provides free legal advice to the general public and certain sectors of the community across Staffordshire and Shropshire.
The students are supervised by qualified solicitors and academics. The service provides a letter of advice on a range of issues including housing, family, consumer and employment law and it does not currently undertake case work or provide representation, although the service may be expanded to include this work in the future.
Research shows that around 870,800 people live in Staffordshire of 309,000 households (2017) and, based on the 2015 Index of Multiple Deprivation, 49 of Staffordshire’s 528 lower super output areas (LSOA’s) fall within the top 20% of the most deprived nationally.
Around 54% of people over 65 in Staffordshire are thought to have a family long term illness. Around 11% of households are believed to be on a low income. These people are likely to have no assets and to be reliant on benefits.
There are a number of areas in Staffordshire where families and communities face multiple issues such as unemployment, poor housing and poor quality of life. With these needs comes the need for legal advice.
Tracey states that “the SULAC module allows the University to help our local community whilst providing the students with ‘real world’ experience. SULAC’s service is a direct response to the difficulties faced by the most vulnerable in our society and to the public sector. Increasingly people are struggling to get legal assistance because of legal aid cuts, court closures and expensive court fees. Many agencies have had budget cuts which makes the situation worse.”
SULAC offers clinics to the general public at various locations, which makes it unique.
“We also wanted to forge links with as many of our partners as possible so that we are able to give something back and assist with any research requirements they may have.
“We have a bespoke case management system which allows us to comply with professional conduct rules, remain paperless and GDPR complaint.”
Here are the areas this year’s clinic provide a service too
Stoke on Trent Combined Court
SULAC provided a drop-in service for the general public, every Monday (term time) at this location.
Signpost Stafford is a grass roots community hub in the middle of a council estate in Stafford. It is a project that was set up in 2007 and is funded through the lottery. There are counsellors there, a food bank and a bank of computers for the local residents to use. In the circumstances, there is already a community presence. In addition to providing legal advice the students integrated into the local community which forged links. SULAC provided a drop in and appointment service on Tuesdays (term time) at this location.
House of Bread
House of Bread is an organisation that provides food and support for the vulnerable and homeless of Stafford. SULAC provided a drop in service once a month.
SULAC provided a clinic, once a month, to prison officers and staff at HMP Stafford. HMP Stafford holds around 750 category C prisoners convicted of sexual offences. In addition to providing the service to staff members, the prison officers also educated the students on issues such as probation, outreach and sometimes the students also sat in on prisoner adjudication hearings. The students also undertook a collaborative research project with HMP Stafford aimed at improving outcomes for the men incarcerated.
Royal Stoke and County Hospitals
SULAC provided a clinic, once a month, to staff members at these hospitals.
SULAC provided a clinic, once a month, to a military base. We are hoping to expand and develop this clinic.
SULAC offered a clinic once a month to residents of the YMCA. We hope to be able to develop this clinic.
Macmillan Cancer Support
SULAC offered a virtual priority link to cancer patients, within Staffordshire, via Macmillan Cancer Support. Most of the problems related to employment law, particularly returning to work after treatment. It is hoped that this service can be expanded to include street law projects.
SULAC offered a virtual priority link to Gareth Snell, MP and a physical clinic to constituents of Jeremy Lefroy MP.’s constituents. We also offered to assist with any generic research matters. Unfortunately, the dissolution of parliament hindered our progress, but we hope to be able to develop our links with MPs in the future.
SULAC provided a street law project to lung cancer survivors on consumer law. We hope to be able to expand these projects to more members of the community in the future.
No client is seen without a supervisor and no letter of advice is sent out unless it has been approved by a supervisor.
Clients are interviewed by two students and their supervisor. The students will then research the area of law and a letter of advice will be sent to the client within 14 days. No advice is given at the first interview. Where SULAC cannot assist the students will signpost or refer to another organisation, where possible.
“In 2019/2020 SULAC assisted 178 clients (and continuing). 75 of these enquiries related to family law. With just 22 students and one clinic manager/supervisor the level of commitment and dedication of the students was exceptional.”
What the clients say
C: “Thank you very much for the help you and your students do for the people in need”
P: “Excellent service from all involved. I am now clear on what I have to do. Many thanks”
M: “I just wanted to drop you a quick email to say thank you for your help. While you weren’t able to help directly, the forms and the “idiots guide” you provided were invaluable. With that help I was able to successfully apply myself. You were a great help and I wish you all the best in the future”
T: “Was very satisfied. Have been and seen a mediator and she thought you were brilliant and has taken your details”
J: “We used SULAC because it was a free service. We liked the idea of giving students experience in real cases. We needed to know where we stand legally before spending any more money”.
“We were delighted to be shortlisted for “Best New Probono Activity” and “Best Contribution by an Individual Law Student” in the 2019 Attorney General/Lawworks Student Probono Awards; Best Probono Activity and Best Contribution by a Law Clinic in the Lawworks Probono Awards 2019 and the Probono Award in the Lexis Nexis Legal Awards 2020.”
SULAC is a fantastic opportunity for our students and really enhances their employability. They gain real experience working in legal advice, gain complex problem solving skills, emotional intelligence, service orientation, negotiation, people management, critical thinking and much more.
Tracey said “In addition to this it helps with communication, customer awareness, time management and overall confidence. It provides the students with self-discipline and work ethic and several of our students have obtained training contracts because local employers are so impressed with the initiative.
“In addition to assisting with employability our students have also found that the module helped them with their studies, increasing their confidence in group work and helping them to overcome anxiety issues in their personal life.”
SULAC will continue to assist with helping meet the legal needs of the local community and our partners.
SULAC usually only runs in term time and was due to end in March 2020. In light of Covid19, however, we decided to continue the service remotely to assist our local community during this stressful time.
If you would like legal advice or would like to discuss other matters, please contact us:
LW106, Ashley 2
Stoke on Trent
Tel: 01782 294800