There are around 41 law centres, based predominantly in cities and areas where there is high poverty. The most basic objective of the law centres is to provide not-for-profit (known as pro bono) access to lawyers and experienced legal advisers who have the expertise and skills needed to advise and represent clients on areas of law that mostly affect poorer sections of society. Law centres offer direct services to the public, as well as taking more complex cases that have been referred to them by local agencies or law firms. They also work with and support local community groups on legal issues and have become innovative in providing cutting-edge services, such as telephone advice schemes which have been taken up by other branches of the profession.
Most law centres receive grants from local authorities and from charities such as The Big Lottery Fund. Government cuts to funding have led to severe financial insecurity. Despite this, support – and the need – for law centres has remained strong. Most staff at law centres give their time voluntarily.
Citizens Advice provides a service similar to law centres at around 2,500 community locations throughout England and Wales. Information and advice is delivered in person, and by telephone and email, to millions of people every year. Advisers can help fill out forms, write letters, negotiate on behalf of clients and represent them at courts or tribunals in matters ranging from debt and benefits to housing, employment and immigration. Most Citizens Advice centres offer legal advice and employ their own lawyers.
What is the role of the lawyer in a law centre?
Law centres exist to address the needs and interests of their local communities, and in this sense they are a quite unique part of the legal profession, which all too often puts its own interests above those of its clients. The centres specialise in social welfare law which includes: welfare rights; disability rights; immigration and asylum; housing and homelessness; employment rights; community care; and all forms of discrimination. Other areas of work vary according to local need and may include public law, mental health, education rights, and young people and children’s rights.
How to apply
Jobs are advertised on the Citizens Advice jobs board and in the local and national press, particularly in the Guardian, and in specialist publications such as the Legal Action Group magazine or the Law Society Gazette.
Salaries differ from centre to centre but, generally speaking, they are in line with local authority salary pay scales.