The significant voluntary contribution Northumbria University law students make to their community has been recognised with an award from a national charity.

Students and representatives of various educational institutions across the country attended the House of Commons for the annual LawWorks & Attorneys General Student Pro Bono Awards 2017. The prestigious event was endorsed and presented by the Attorney General, The Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP with His Honour Sir Robin Knowles CBE, a High Court judge, as host.

As the name suggests the awards specifically recognise students’ “pro bono” activity. Shortened from the Latin term “pro bono publico” this means “for the public good”. The law students being honoured have given up their time and provided their expertise on a voluntary basis for people who need legal assistance, but for various reasons, aren’t in a position to access it.

LawWorks, the national charity behind the awards, encourages and supports solicitors and law students in carrying out legal pro bono work. A 2014 survey carried out by the organisation found that at least 70 per cent of all law schools in the UK are involved in pro bono projects and 45 per cent of clinics in the LawWorks’ clinics network involve a law school. The awards were established to recognise this hard work and celebrate the innovation, commitment and dedication of law students across the country.

Northumbria Law School was shortlisted along with three worthy rivals for The Access to Justice Award. The Access to Justice Foundation is a national charity which works to provide access to justice for the most vulnerable in society. The award is given to the educational body or individual student which is felt to have made the most significant contribution to the promotion of access to justice.

In selecting them as their winners, the judges were particularly impressed with Northumbria Law School’s dedication to ‘putting pro bono at the heart of a lawyer’s career’. They also recognised Northumbria Law School’s exceptional clinical model and outstanding educational and community impact.

This model includes the Student Law Office, an on-site legal advice and assistance service where final year Masters students provide a full range of legal activities for their clients; researching issues, drafting documents, representing clients in court and tribunals, negotiating settlements and obtaining compensation. The Student Law Office has recovered over £1 million in compensation for clients since 2005.

The University actively seeks to provide advice in respect of areas with very little or no pro bono support. Clients of the Student Law Office receive help relating to anything from family and housing to welfare benefits and employment. Many of these people would have been entitled to legal aid prior to the funding cuts introduced in 2013, so without the students’ help would be unable to access legal support and advice at all.

The Law School also operates a Business Law Clinic, one of the largest in the UK, giving organisations including charities and social enterprises much needed free advice on company, commercial and intellectual property (IP) issues.

Alongside these valued initiatives, the University runs several unique educational projects, offering students the opportunity to actively engage with drop in and urgent advice, community education and court support projects.

Paul McKeown, Director of the Student Law Office at Northumbria University, said;

“A university is an integral part of the local community and has a responsibility towards that community.  This award recognises the invaluable work of all the staff and students in promoting access to justice and providing legal support to people within our region and beyond.”

This is not the first time Northumbria Law School has won at these awards, as they have been recipients of the “Best Law School” accolade a record three times. The Student Law Office itself has already been honoured at the highest level, having received the highly prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its outstanding community work in 2013.

Northumbria Law School is the largest law school in the North East, with an unrivalled national and international reputation for academic excellence in legal education. If you would like to find out more about the courses and community initiatives run by the school, you can visit their page on the University website: www.northumbria.ac.uk/about-us/academic-departments/northumbria-law-school.