I had a conversation recently with a worker at a legal ‘not for profit’ organisation (who wishes to remain anonymous) who is in despair about their Housing Court Desk Duty Scheme. She had been using student volunteers in addition to the qualified helpers. The student volunteers were all law students from a local college. They were really enthusiastic, worked hard, and the scheme was going well. However she has now been told that, for schemes funded by the LSC, all advisors must either be qualified solicitors or be doing 12 hours per week housing law case work. So she can’t use the students any more.
I assume that the LSC have made this stipulation so that they can assure ‘quality’. However the effect of this is to make the scheme very difficult to run. Although they are generally willing to help, in the present financial climate local solicitors will need to spend most of their time on fee earning work, to enable their firm to stay solvent. They are not going to have a lot of free time available for voluntary work, bearing in mind that there are very few solicitors nowadays who specialise in this area of work anyway.
It is ridiculous to say that only solicitors and those carrying heavy housing law caseloads can give advice to people facing repossession. With proper training, anyone sensible who understand the legal system can do it. I would have thought that law students were eminently suitable for this work, plus it will enable them to gain experience which will help them in their careers, and may even encourage them to specialise in the area of housing and welfare work in the future.
It reminds me of when I used to do volunteer work for a local legal charity. I was donating my time entirely free of charge but the Legal Services Commission’s expectations were wholly unreasonable. For example they demanded that I physically attend the office for a certain amount of time each week (which would take up more time that I was able to give, bearing in mind that I also needed to earn a living) whether this was actually needed or not. This is one of the main reasons why I resigned.
It seems that not only have the LSC virtually destroyed the network of legal aid solicitors that previously existed, they are also (still) making life difficult for volunteer services.