Raising the Bar

Law remains a popular career choice for students. Those with the right skills, ambition and confidence can aspire to great things within a profession that is challenging, demanding and almost certainly different every day. But alongside knowledge and talent sits another important component to any aspiring solicitor’s or barrister’s CV – experience.

Gaining work experience within a law firm can be a competitive business, with many motivated students competing for a small number of placements. A new initiative at the University of Wolverhampton aims to provide exciting opportunities for students to gain vital real experience while also providing a service for the community.

A new Legal Advice Centre providing free legal advice has opened in a void shop unit in the Mander Shopping Centre in Wolverhampton city centre. Under the supervision of academics, law students provide advice to members of the public on a range of subjects, from employment law issues to small and medium sized business start-up matters.

“The new Legal Advice Centre has been established to provide real experience of offering legal advice, 8 NEWS Raising the bar which will further enhance the employability of our graduates,” explains Mumtaz J Hussain, Director of Postgraduate and Part-time Education at the School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications.

“The University has a strong focus on providing our students with the attributes needed for the world of work, and this initiative aims to develop their communication skills, provide experience of carrying out practical legal research and apply this to a real case.”

Mumtaz has led the development of the new Legal Advice Centre with support from Associate Dean, Lynn Leighton-Johnstone and Dean of School, Professor Judith Burnett. In addition, the Centre has received the backing of Black Country law firms, FBC Manby Bowdler LLP and Talbots, who will provide guidance to the students in relation to their practical legal research, legal analysis and advice.

The students offering advice in the clinics are LLB (Hons) undergraduates in the second and third years of their courses, as well as Legal Practice Course (LPC) and postgraduate law students, and will be fully supervised by law academics.

At the opening, two students who have already been cutting their teeth as legal advisors at the Centre gave speeches explaining how the law clinics have already impacted on their careers. Vito Giambalvo is a second year LLB (Hons) student.

He said: “The Legal Advice Centre has enabled me to focus my attention on the skills which are necessary to become a successful advocate. Skills such as communication with members of the public and the legal profession, public speaking, practical legal research skills, legal analysis and application of the law.

“All these skills are developed and applied at the Legal Advice Centre, as we are having to communicate with members of the public with real legal issues that they want addressed, requiring us all to undertake legal analysis of their matter, followed by practical legal research and providing useful advice to our clients to the best of our abilities.”

Jyoti Chumber, who is also in her second year of the LLB (Hons) course, agrees. “It encourages us, as law students, to persevere in our future aspirations and keep focused on our aims, whether that means getting an excellent classification law degree, gaining a training contract, developing our CVs, providing motivation to become a solicitor or barrister or follow any other legal career, or simply giving us direction of what possibilities could open up for us.”

Both students have found working at the Legal Advice Centre has opened doors for them. Jyoti found networking with local solicitors and meeting groups and individuals has enabled her to secure a part-time job as a receptionist at Quality Solicitors Talbots, at their free legal surgery. Meanwhile Vito has marshalled at Birmingham Crown Court, met with a QC and secured a mini-pupillage at St Ives Chambers in Birmingham.

But aside from the useful work experience the students are gaining, the Legal Advice Centre is also providing a valuable service for the community. Clients have provided positive feedback, particularly in relation to how it has given them the confidence to take the next steps to resolve their matter by going on to seek professional legal help.

“The Legal Advice Centre provides a win-win outcome for us students and for our local communities, by giving them a welcoming place of help and direction for their matters and issues,” Jyoti says.

Vito adds: “The most rewarding aspect for me has been that we are dealing with real individuals and are able to provide some help to them from our learning and knowledge of the law.”

The Legal Advice Centre is open from Monday to Friday, from 10am to 4pm. Clients are seen via appointments, which can be made by emailing: lawcentre@wlv.ac.uk or calling: 01902 322484.