Liverpool John Moores University opened a new public advice hub in the city centre on Monday to help hundreds of people with legal and business problems.
The £2.6 million centre, on Hardman Street, aims to help meet rocketing demand from people priced out of hiring lawyers and accountants when faced with a personal or professional crisis.
The Legal Advice Centre (LAC) and Business and Accounting Clinic are free and run by the Faculty of Business & Law, whose head, Dr Tim Nichol says the university must stand up for its community.
“We have a responsibility to help wider society and the reality is many at present cannot afford a solicitor nor pay for a marketing campaign or a business planner.
“There is a vast unmet need out there with many people struggling, so if we can lend our experts to make a difference, that would be great.”
The Legal Advice Centre offers help on family, civil, employment, wills and housing law as well as some commercial and small claims work, while the Business and Accounting Clinic offers consultancy project teams to tackle real problems brought to them by businesses, offering research, marketing plans and fresh approach solutions. Last year it worked with 45 organisations - public, private and third sector - and this year is are looking more than double the number.
“What makes the model viable is that the clinics are part-run by students”, explains Rachel Stalker, a solicitor and LAC Director, adding that all are supervised by academic staff and supported by more than 40 volunteer solicitors and business advisors.
In fact, LJMU has been offering pro bono legal advice since 2013 when legal aid was cut but the new venture represents a huge expansion of capacity, with five full-time solicitors and two administrative staff with other experts ‘on call’ from the university’s School of Law.
“Last year, we were only able to deal with two out of every five people who asked for help but now with the cost-of-living crisis we are seeing demand from all sections of society.
“We’re not just talking about the poorest now but many working people. 44% of working single people with no children and 76% working single parents with one child are now in what we call the ‘justice gap’,” explained Rachel.
“These are people who would be forced to choose between no legal protection or falling into poverty if they had a legal problem.
“Research shows that as many as 3.6 million people every year have unresolved legal problems so it is clear that the majority daren’t turn to the law for fear of what it might cost.”
With a ‘shop-window’ on Hardman Street, LJMU says it’s the perfect venue for people wanting help: “Often people just want to see someone, to talk through their dilemma, and that’s what we aim to offer with this visible location in town.”
Although free at the point of delivery, the service is different from what a law firm would offer: “Our student volunteers have to be supervised by qualified professionals so we can’t give advice on the spot, but they will offer written advice after an appointment, signpost the public to further help and in some cases one of our in-house solicitors can take a case through the court system.”
Student volunteer Saffron Montgomery, who completed her law degree in July and has returned to study the Legal Practice Course at LJMU, said it was great to know she was helping people with their problems while gaining client experience.
“It’s been amazing to put my legal theory into practice. This type of experience cannot be taught and is a fantastic opportunity which I would recommend to any law student without hesitation.”