A project helping provide free legal advice to people experiencing homelessness in Cardiff has won a national award in recognition of its impact on the community.
Cardiff Lawyers Care – a partnership between the University of South Wales (USW) Legal Advice Clinic, Cardiff & District Law Society and homelessness charity The Wallich, was named the winner of the LawWorks Cymru Award, which recognises pro bono work in Wales.
The awards, held at the LawWorks Pro Bono Awards last night (Tuesday 7 December) at the Law Society in London, recognise and celebrate achievements in legal pro bono work, undertaken by organisations and individuals, and the commitment of the legal sector in enabling access to justice.
Cardiff Lawyers Care was set up by members of Cardiff & District Law Society to provide pro bono initial legal help and support to people experiencing homelessness in Cardiff. They joined forces with students from the USW Legal Advice Clinic, who were able to shadow solicitors giving advice to service users at The Wallich.
Clive Thomas, Managing Director of Watkins & Gunn Solicitors, was one of the founding members of Cardiff Lawyers Care. He said: “Homelessness appeared to be the biggest social problem in Cardiff. When you see someone homeless in the street you sometimes wonder what to do for the best – do you give money, food or something else? We at Cardiff Law Society wanted to do something about it and use our legal training to make a difference. There seemed to be a real appetite among junior lawyers in particular to get involved, and The Wallich felt there was a real need, so we decided to start the clinic. LawWorks were a fantastic help in getting the clinic off the ground.
“We initially thought that those people experiencing homeless would want housing advice only, however we have seen that there has been a much broader need for legal help. This has included family law, children law and criminal law matters. We have seen great feedback from the service users of the Wallich who have said that they have gained real benefit from this resource. It would be great if the clinic was unnecessary because this advice and help is readily available – but it is not. We are filling a void – where they may be eligible for legal aid, we refer to solicitors specialising in those areas, where they are not, our aim is to give advice that empowers the recipient to be able to deal with their legal issues.”
Hannah Menard, Director of the USW Legal Advice Clinic, added: “Our partnership with Cardiff Lawyers Care is a great example of what can be achieved when we work in collaboration with others. Winning this award is a true testament to the hard work and dedication of all those involved including our Law students, volunteer lawyers, The Wallich and the administrative support provided by the Legal Advice Clinic. This collaboration has provided an invaluable opportunity for our students to be at the forefront of access to justice for one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. It is also key in shaping our students’ aspirations and building their professional networks. As future lawyers, building their commitment to pro bono ensures these projects continue for future generations.”
Kelis Fencott, 20, from Maesteg, was one of the Law students who took part in the clinic. She said: “The Legal Advice Clinic is one of my favourite modules, so when I had the opportunity to volunteer I jumped at the chance. It was an amazing opportunity, not only to help those in need, but also to help me expand my own professional network and skills, by shadowing a qualified solicitor alongside a pupil barrister. It meant a lot to me that I was able to be a part of such an amazing thing and it motivated me to work a lot harder at university.”
Lizzie Harris, Service Manager for The Wallich’s Building Opportunities, Skills and Success (BOSS) project, has been involved in the clinic since November 2020. She added: “The clinic was initially held as a drop-in session at The Wallich’s Nightshelter in Cardiff. This was aimed to support The Wallich’s service users currently experiencing homelessness, to access free legal advice every fortnight.
"It offers free legal advice each month on issues including housing, debt, family and more. The monthly clinic has given The Wallich’s service users the chance to be heard and supported with their legal issues by experts. This empowered them to feel more in control with their legal disputes.
“The volunteers at Cardiff Lawyers Care engaged in training that gave an overview of the client group The Wallich support, the barriers they might face and how The Wallich uses a trauma informed approach. This enabled the students to gain a better understanding and perspective of some of the issues and barriers our service users face. The volunteers communicated in plain English, ensuring that both Support Workers and service users fully understood the advice provided. Their empathy and ability to adapt the clinic to support the service users’ needs, as well as delivering this during the pandemic, has been vital for the success of the clinic.
"We are so grateful for all the hours and hard work the volunteers and staff at Cardiff Lawyers Care have put into making this legal clinic a truly valuable support for our service users. The clinic was also an asset to staff at The Wallich, providing an excellent signposting service to free expert legal advice, without a long waiting list. Most importantly, it was excellent for our service users, who may not have been given this advice or support anywhere else.”
Some of the feedback from The Wallich’s service users included: