If you're an Essex Law student, you can apply to volunteer in the Essex Law Clinic and have the opportunity to build on your legal skills outside of your normal uni lectures, putting them into practice working with real clients in the community. There are lots of opportunities law students will benefit from by volunteering to work in the clinic, from working alongside local businesses and lawyers throughout Essex, to gaining advice and practical experience across lots of areas of law including housing, family, immigration and consumer law to name just a few. Students also provide legal advice and knowledge to charities, individuals, and social groups by educating them on how to take action, and campaigning for changes to the law.
When you first join the Law Clinic, you join as a bronze member. Bronze members work on projects which are clinical activities and don't involve giving advice and assistance to individual clients. Alternativley, bronze members provide other legal services, such as providing the general public or certain social groups with information about their legal rights or duties which serve the needs of the community, such as through work on reforming the law or researching the extent of or solution to particular legal needs.
If you're a first year law student, you can apply at the very start of term. For second year students, you can register for the Legal Advice Casework module, where you'll be contacted directly with application details. Applications for 2022-23 are now closed, so let's take a look at the exciting projects that our students are going to be working on this year.
Law Clinic student projects 2022-23
This years projects topics include:
Business start ups
This relatively new project involves Law Clinic students working with Law School academics and the University’s Innovation Centre to support business start-ups for University of Essex students. Students will be given extensive training on four aspects of the law relevant to those wanting to set up a business (such as incorporation, employment law, intellectual property, data protection) and then they work in small groups of two to three students to prepare presentations on one of these aspects of the law to those University students who are in the process of setting up a business. It is hoped to build on this experience to develop a Business Law Clinic which can also provide bespoke advice to student business start-ups in future years. Students involved in this project will therefore be well placed to be involved with setting up and running this new Clinic
This project will involve students undertaking a number of training sessions in the Autumn Term in which they will be trained with the necessary skills to be able to undertake cases if and when they graduate to Silver membership. The project will start with initial training involving a mix of preparation by watching webcasts and/or reading notes, interactive live online sessions and role play practice, and some exercises which must be carried out to the satisfaction of the trainers. Student's will work in pairs and under close supervision to take on a simulated case from start to finish and complete it to the satisfaction of the supervisors. There may also be opportunities to shadow lawyers in other organisation and in the Clinic itself.
This involves Law Clinic students working to address the local community’s legal needs through direct action such as campaigning, negotiation with relevant authorities, etc. The Community Legal Action project is run in collaboration with Citizens Essex, an organisation that focuses on the concept of community organising to achieve practical success and social change. Community organising is “democracy in action”: winning victories that changes lives and transforms communities. Students will be trained in how to listen to the community and how to take effective action.
Student's will conduct extensive listening campaigns to ascertain the needs of the community. Student's will then select areas in which you think you can bring about effective change and either conduct the action themself or, where this would involve changes to the law, work with the Law Clinic’s Law Reform Project to attempt to bring about such change. This project provides an opportunity for you to learn of the day-to-day problems experienced by local citizens and to utilize your knowledge in law in a unique way to make a tangible difference within your community.
Consumer welfare law
Affordable credit has become more important than ever, and credit unions play a significant role in providing affordable credit options to consumers. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions working for the benefit of their community. Consumers and other eligible complainants can submit a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Services (FOS), including on the credit union’s approach to assessing affordability. In such cases, the FOS decides whether the credit union has assessed affordability in a fair and reasonable manner. However, there are no clear rules that guide credit unions in their affordability assessment.
This begs the questions of how credit unions make their decisions on affordability, how FOS rules on those decisions, and whether there is a need for a more structured approach to affordability assessments in line with the FOS’ rulings on the matter. Student's will conduct research on these questions. Working individually and as part of the team, and guided by the project supervisors, student's will produce a 15-20 page report analysing FOS case-law analysis in relation to the Financial Conduct Authority’s rules and principles. The results of the report will be used by the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd (ABCUL) - which represents the majority of the credit unions in Great Britain - to inform their members’ approach to affordability assessments in the context of giving out loans.
Domestic and Sexual Abuse
This project was initially set up by former students with the aim of providing legal advice for women involved in the Colchester Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse (CARA) charity, which provides support and services to women who have experienced sexual abuse/rape/sexual assault. The project has so far included the preparation of short legal advice guides on a range of relevant topics including access to justice, children and employment, as relevant to vulnerable women. Following completion of the guides, the group held a training session at CARA on family law. In the coming year, the aim is to develop student understanding of legal and social issues relating to domestic and sexual abuse, with the intention of providing further support to the community and relevant organisations. This year will involve student training on relevant issues, followed by community engagement activities in term two. This project and the Family Public Legal Education Project will work closely together and some training will cover both projects.
There are a high number of family law cases in the Law Clinic many of which involve clients who represent themselves in court proceedings. Students will receive family law training around divorce and separation, domestic abuse in family cases and issues concerning children and the law. The project will continue to develop resources around family law for use by students new to the area of law. Students will also prepare and deliver family law public legal education sessions in schools through the Tendring Partnership, an organisation which operates throughout schools in the Tendring area.
The focus of the public legal education will be around disputes about children and matters of contact with parents. Students undertaking the PLE element of this project will not only gain valuable knowledge at an early stage of family law (which is only taught as an optional module in third year) but they will also develop presentation skills. This project and the Domestic and Sexual Abuse Project will work closely together and some training will cover both projects.
Homelessness and housing
Eviction, homelessness and poor housing conditions are crucial areas of need for legal advice and have made up a third of the Law Clinic’s advice work over the last two years. The main aim of this project is to provide an information and advice service to users of Beacon House in Colchester. Beacon House is a day support centre for homeless people and those in precarious housing, which provides medical, practical and pastoral support to anyone struggling with housing issues. Law Clinic volunteers run a regular information session at Beacon House to provide legal advice, mainly on housing and family law issues. This project will develop your client-facing skills and help you identify legal issues and appropriate avenues for support in complex cases. There may also be the opportunity to shadow supervisors giving urgent advice on the spot in family and housing cases.
In addition, students on this project will provide tailored trainings and workshops to organisations and other community groups working with those who are homeless or face housing problems. Under supervision, students will prepare and deliver workshops on specific topics developed with target groups such as survivors of domestic abuse or those with HIV.
This project is student-led and volunteers would be expected to contribute to project management and planning. Full training is provided online or at the Law Clinic. Most students will be expected to attend Beacon House in person to provide the information services to service users but there will be spaces for students who are accessing clinic work online to be involved in preparing housing resources and supporting the work or to be involved in public legal education.
This project will appeal to all those who care about and are interested in the issue of immigration. It is designed to provide students with an introduction to immigration law in all its aspects including the right to enter and remain in the UK, nationality and asylum and to enable them to begin to develop means of enhancing the assistance given to those in the local community facing immigration issues.
Students will be trained in various aspects of immigration law and procedure. Students will engage in an activity such as exploring links with other organisations working with immigrants, preparing information leaflets on various aspects of immigration law, creating awareness and rights and obligations of visa holders, preparing and possibly also delivering presentations on immigration law to particular groups of people facing immigration issues (such as survivors of domestic violence and asylum seekers without recourse to public funds) and possibly shadowing real life immigration cases.
This project involves the investigation of cases of those who have been convicted of crimes for which they claim to be innocent or where there is a lack of sufficient evidence to support the conviction or the conviction is based on breaches of the law. In this project students will be trained in how to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice and will help with investigations currently being undertaken by Sequentus, an organisation which provides students with pro bono opportunities to engage in a range of justice activities.
In the Autumn Term a series of mainly sessions will introduce students to the causes and remedies for miscarriages of justice and to some of the skills involved in investigating and proving claims of innocence. During this term, students will also be introduced to the work of Sequentus before they start to work with it on actual case. Students will continue to work on an alleged miscarriage in the next term but will also work on a presentation on a historic miscarriage of justice which will be made at the end of the term.
Law reform project
Students who join this project will receive training in policy and law reform practice. They will work with Clinic members and the local community to identify areas of law in need of reform. We will pursue an integrated law reform practice which is informed by the direct casework undertaken by clinic members. Particular opportunities to contribute to law reform inquiries or consultations will be identified.
Students will then complete the projects under the supervision of the Staff Co-ordinator. Alternatively. students may provide support to academics or external organisations on their law reform work.
LGBTQ+ Rights Project
The Law Clinic works in collaboration with OutHouse East, based in Colchester, to provide an avenue to free legal advice to the LGBT+ community. The project extends to public legal education activities such as the production of a podcast and the development of factsheets, and students will also undertake service promotion such as attendance at various Pride events. Bronze and silver level volunteers will work with the staff and student co-ordinator on the public legal education sessions, promotional activities and look to further expand the LGBT+ unit and its contribution to the community.
The Law Clinic is also working in partnership with a local charity, Metro, which supports people living with HIV. The Clinic provides public legal education sessions to attendees of the charity’s peer support sessions. These cover topics about legal rights in areas including confidentiality, disclosure and equality. Students will work on developing and delivering public legal education sessions on HIV & the Law. Students will also work with the Staff Co-ordinator to develop the range of services available to the Charity and its stakeholders.
Protection of Nature and the Environment
This is a brand new project. It will appeal to those considering a career in earth law and nature protection. The project is designed to give students an introduction to the concepts of climate justice and earth law. It will give students the opportunities to work on generic and bespoke assistance to those protecting the natural world. In the Autumn term students will be given materials, reading and workshops on aspects of earth law and other areas of law that are currently being used to progress the protection of nature. A number of guest speakers, such as wild law barristers and nature conservation experts, have been invited and these will be confirmed in the next few weeks. Students of this project are also invited to work with Brontie on ‘Mapping the right to a healthy environment’ with the Essex Human Rights Centre Clinic.
Students will join with postgraduate students of the HRC clinic in completing high level research on this important right. In the Spring term students will prepare a number of guides that will enable earth activists to protect their environment, such as tree protection guides, river pollution data collection guides and biodiversity protection guides. These will be published on sites such as Lawyers for Nature. Students will also be encouraged to write blogs for publication on various earth law sites. They will also have the opportunity to shadow cases on climate justice where possible.
Low income tax project
This new project will provide public legal education on some of the tax issues that affect people on low incomes i.e., individuals on incomes of £20,000-£30,000 a year or less. The project will help them to understand some of the 1% of the tax system that applies to them (while safely ignoring the confusing 99% that do not) in order to pay only the right amount of tax due. Students will be given extensive training on some key aspects of tax law and practice that affect people on low incomes (such as submitting tax returns to HMRC and claiming tax rebates from HMRC) and will then work in small groups to prepare public legal education materials on these aspects for the local community.
It is hoped to build on this project to develop a Low Incomes Tax Advice Unit, which will provide free advice on some of the tax issues that impact on people on low incomes. Students involved in this project will, therefore, be well placed to be involved with setting up and running this new Unit which will complement the Clinic’s existing advice on welfare benefits law by targeting for information and help those least able in the community to afford to pay for tax and welfare benefit advice and make a real difference to their understanding of the systems of taxation and related welfare benefits.
Learn more about the Essex Law Clinic, or browse Essex law degrees and join us in October 2023.