The General legal advice clinic (or GLA as it is commonly known) is a service run by the University of Portsmouth law school giving law students an opportunity to gain a practical insight into the legal profession by providing a free and confidential legal advice service to members of the local community.
From September to March three clinics a week are run by a group of final year law students, who have been selected via an assessment centre process to participate. The GLA is part of a 40 credit unit called “The practical lawyer” and is taken as an alternative to dissertation in the final year. Students have to complete a commitment of 100 hours in the clinic, together with two assessments comprising of; a 3000 word legal essay, a 2000 word reflective essay and an appraisal.
Between May and July (outside of academic term time) one clinic a week is held. All levels of law student are encouraged to make an application to work in the summer time clinic, from first years to postgraduate level and they are fully supported by the clinic supervisors.
Heather Allen is a final year LLB (hons) student who undertook the Practical Lawyer unit 2016-2017
As students we are supported by our supervisors, including a practicing solicitor, to provide our clients with options regarding their legal issues. We operate from two local community centres; The John Pounds Centre and Somerstown Community Centre and hold sessions with clients attending either by appointment or drop in. We see clients from different backgrounds and with varying legal issues. The most common issues we advise on are; landlord and tenant, family disputes, housing/homelessness and financial issues, including debt.
Each client is greeted at a reception desk and will fill out a form with their details which we keep for our records, and logged onto our professional case management system, CLIO. The client is then met by two student advisers who will listen to their problem. There is no time limit it just depends on how complex the issue is. After gathering all of the relevant information, the advisers then take time to research the issues and discuss a plan of action with the clinic supervisors. The advisers will then go and deliver that advice to the client. This generally involves giving the client options as to how to approach their issues, outlining any costs that they may incur and further information/signposting to other services. The client is given time to ask any further questions and make sure they understand the advice. After this the choice is with the client as to how to approach their issue and they can always return to the clinic if they require any further legal assistance.
As well as advising clients at the clinic, the advisers run a committee that focuses on other aspects of the GLA Clinic giving us all greater commercial awareness. These activities include: admin work and filing of the case notes from each client, a blogging team, a marketing team and a research team that keeps us up to date with current legal issues and changes to the law. I myself am part of the marketing group and our aim has been to try out different methods of marketing in order to reach a wider audience as we believe the GLA clinic is an important addition to the Portsmouth community.
Overall I have found working at the GLA Clinic to be a very rewarding experience and an opportunity for me to help people in the community who would otherwise not be able to afford legal advice. My confidence has improved and I enjoy seeing that I am making a difference to other people. During my academic year at the clinic, we have advised more than 250 new clients which is a huge achievement for us and shows how vital this service is to the people of Portsmouth.