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Corporate Responsibility

Rewarding work in legal advice clinics can help change lives

18 November 2015

​A&O celebrates 25 years of working with Battersea Free Legal Advice Clinic


Pro bono work is “hugely rewarding”. Just ask Litigation Employment partner Sarah Henchoz. Sarah has been giving pro bono advice at legal advice clinics since she was a trainee. Since 2013, she’s been the champion for A&O’s clinic work at Toynbee Hall and South West London Law Centre (SWLLC) at Battersea.

“While the kind of employment issues I am involved in on a day-to-day basis at A&O are on a much larger scale than those at the clinics, seeing how employers’ actions and decisions affect employees, and effectively seeing things from the other side of the fence, helps me to ensure I can still give a rounded view,” she says.

A&O’s partnership with the Battersea clinic goes back 25 years, a landmark that was celebrated with an event on 5 November.

SWLLC chief executive Patrick Marples said the clinics see some of the most vulnerable people in society. The issues they need help with vary from standard consumer issues such as faulty appliances to unpaid wages to return of deposits from landlords.

He said the impact of grass-roots pro bono advice from A&O and other City lawyers “can make a big difference” to someone’s life – something Sarah has seen first-hand.

She recalls the gratitude of a client who had approached the clinic after losing her job and home when she had been unlawfully dismissed from a live-in position. “We helped her find somewhere to stay as well as recovering her personal belongings from her former employer,” said Sarah. “Eventually, we also managed to secure compensation for her for the amounts owed to her and for the loss she had suffered in terms of future income and accommodation. You could see that our support had made a huge difference.

“Many clients come to the clinics because they are confused, upset and angry about what has happened to them,” said Sarah. “They don’t know where to turn, or how resolve the situation they find themselves in. Sometimes even the smallest amount of guidance from us, whether legal or practical, can help them make sense of their problem.”

Pro bono work has other benefits: it can also help lawyers develop practical communication skills such as the ability to explain complex legal issues simply and clearly to someone with little legal knowledge, and delivering news that the client may not want to hear.

The Battersea centre is one of 16 pro bono clinics run by SWLLC across South West London with partner firms and volunteer lawyers. Their aim is to help clients by encouraging them to take steps to resolve their problems themselves, but advisers may also carry out a limited amount of follow-up work such as drafting documents or writing letters on clients’ behalf.

Over the last few years, SWLLC has assisted on average about 4,000 clients a year.

Patrick Marples said SWLLC has a particular reason for its strong relationship with A&O. “A few years ago, we were at real risk of shutting down. A&O gave us immediate pro bono insolvency advice,” he said. This was one of the important factors in saving it from closure.

Patrick said the current Legal Aid landscape is “messy and filled with many unfortunate barriers”.

“Through your support, we can continue to ensure that those who do need help get it.”

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Kate Cavelle
Kate Cavelle
Head of Pro Bono & Comm. Inv.
United Kingdom
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