Law students share their experience of volunteering with Strategic Public Law Clinic
This year we set up a new legal clinic specialising in using public law strategically to address systemic disadvantage and abuse of power to achieve effective change. We caught up with law students Kye Li, Natalie and Meghna to find out more about their time volunteering with our new Strategic Public Law Clinic.
What is the Strategic Public Law Clinic?
Natalie: ‘It’s a project that’s running between the Central England Law Centre in Coventry and Warwick Law in the Community (LinC) here at the Law School. The aim of it so far has been to work on relevant human rights issues in the community.
The Law Centre works on lots of different areas of social justice law so there is a lot of work with public law and local authorities. They pick up on cases where they think there is potential for the project to do more. The Strategic Public Law Clinic came out of the Law Centre being a legal aid funded body, working on lots of cases but not always having the means to follow up on them. Once you get the court order that’s supposedly it and the court has done their part but we see what happens beyond the case and do the research that they might not always have the means to do.’
What is the project you worked on?
Kye Li: ‘There are several projects but we worked on the changes to free nursery education regulation. It centres on social justice in reality; putting it into action.
There has been a change in regulation that enables a wider category of families to have access to free nursery education. Even though this occurred, many families were not aware of the change because the regulation was not updated online and law firms were not aware so the change was not implemented. We reached out to the firms and local authorities who were not aware to let them know about the changes so they could implement them effectively.’
Natalie: ‘We’ve started from scratch really, from a court order that came out of a case that the Law Centre had been working on. We were looking at how we can make sure this is being enforced and how we can identify if this is actually working. So between us, we had different people to get in contact with; it goes from brainstorming to putting a plan into action. We ended up going through every local education authority to see what they were telling their constituents and managed to put together some feedback for the department of education. So it’s not just theoretical discussions it’s work from day one, which I really enjoyed.’
What was your role?
Natalie: To see what the guidance was and who was applying it. It seems straightforward but it never is in these situations. My role was mainly working with the local authorities. It started out checking who had done what they said they would and we quickly realised it was a much bigger problem than we originally expected. We sent our findings back to the Department for Education and we are now in the process of working out a Freedom of Information request to find out the hard numbers so we can back up our claims.
What’s really nice about it is when you work on it you can see where the effort is needed and who needs to be spoken to so you can see the ripple effect.
Kye Li: Mine was to reach out to law firms who are actively working in the social justice area by writing an article for the Legal Action Group magazine. That was one of the main achievements.
We have only been involved in a small aspect of what social justice is in real life so this helped me to further my interest in it, so I would like to explore more, through different areas and aspects of it. Karen’s connections helped us a lot because she knew a lot of people in the field making it easier for us to reach out to them.
What was your favourite part?
Kye Li: I feel like the whole project is a good and eye opening experience, I can’t really pinpoint a favourite thing. It’s a great opportunity to see what you learn about in class in the real world.
Natalie: I’d say the practical element of it. You’re not just learning, you’re actually getting experience. Knowing the organisations, knowing what’s going on and people in those positions, it makes it relatable and makes it actually mean something. It’s not just research for an essay, it’s someone’s life. ‘
What skills have you gained?
Kye Li: Lots of things like time management, knowing more about what this area of law is like, what the people who work in this area focus on and also seeing that the lawyers in this field are actually passionate about it. You can really tell they actually enjoy their work and want to help people at a disadvantage.
Natalie: It encourages you to try new things and really build on your practical skills.
Would you recommend this opportunity?
Kye Li: Definitely. I think for people who are not really sure what social justice in real life is like or for those who just want to explore different areas of the law. It’s a really good experience as you don’t see it from the perspective portrayed in the media, you see it from a more realistic legal point of view. It’s not as glamorous as what it appears to be. It gives you a more realistic and practical idea of what it is like. It’s great experience to have.
Natalie: Anyone who has any interest in the law outside of commercial law, magic circle firms and training contracts, should consider it. It shows a completely different side to the law. Anyone who cares about social justice and community projects. Anyone who wants to do something a little bit different on their degree and wants to do something that’s going to make a difference.
What advice would you give to those wanting to apply?
Kye Li: It was quite competitive as lots of people applied. I would say read up about the Law Centre and what the project is about. Think about why you want to get involved? The motivation shouldn’t be just to enhance your CV, you must have a genuine interest in social justice and this area of the law. This will shine through in your interview and make you stand out.
Natalie: All you need to be successful is to want to make a difference and have a strong commitment as all experience is valuable. It’s more about your willingness to contribute, work as a team and put the effort in.
I think everyone should apply to be honest. It’s such a different experience from what you gain from the subject matter on your degree but also other bits of work experience on offer; it is definitely the most responsibility I have had. It is an opportunity to really push yourself but in a really nice supportive team environment. Just give it a go!