When the doors to the Law Clinic slammed shut in April 2020 at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, the Clinic team had to draw on ingenuity and imagination to keep the wheels of justice moving for their clients. They also had to find innovative ways to continue supporting and involving law students.
A fascinating new report, produced by Clinic solicitors, reveals how they did just that. It details how the team overcame the challenges presented by lockdown to continue to provide a vital community-based legal service for local people in need of their help. It also highlights how they managed to provide ongoing supervision for Kent law students in the midst of their Clinical Option module studies.
Sometimes that meant providing technical support for clients using laptops or smartphones during an employment tribunal hearing. Sometimes it meant meeting clients in a car park on campus to hand over important documents. It also meant hastily rethinking how international students, trapped by travel restrictions, could meet and work with clients in the UK.
In their report, the team say: ‘We rapidly implemented many changes to our practical ways of working to adapt to these new circumstances. This included adopting a new secure web-based case management system enabling students living anywhere in the world to access and work on relevant papers. We had to move to an online system for receiving new enquiries, while ensuring that there was still a means of contact and attention to those clients without access to IT.’
The team acknowledges the invaluable (and ongoing) support provided by experienced, pro bono lawyers in the community. Local lawyers switched to Zoom for the Clinic’s Monday evening advice sessions (during term time) and were able to continue offering free legal advice to members of the public in need of help.
The report reveals the difficulties the Clinic team had to overcome attending courts and tribunals. It also details a raft of cases that the team, together with law students, has worked on in the last 18 months – including many successes. From PIP appeals, threats of eviction, increasing numbers of family law cases, disputes over inheritance to employment tribunals and immigration cases, the report offers a full and frank account of the predicaments faced by clients (many of whom are key workers) and the help provided by the Clinic.
In their conclusion, the team say: ‘The Clinic is a complex combination of vision, space and place, combining a public service to Kent-based clients with a unique educational experience for students. The impact of Covid restrictions placed immense pressure on every aspect of this. Limited online access risked excluding clients who needed urgent and detailed assistance. Managing formal and informal procedures between clients and opponents was often deeply frustrating. Confining all conversations to telephone and Zoom tended to preclude the kind of casual, accidental enthusiasm and inspiration which can only come from unstructured personal contact. But clients managed to contact us! Students were able to work on their cases! Empathy and sympathy, intellectual understanding, complex assistance to clients and constructive feedback to students were all achieved even during the strictest lockdown conditions.’
Now the Clinic’s door are open again – under Covid-secure conditions – and Clinic staff are keen to further enhance the service and education they provide by developing all the best ideas and procedures adopted during lockdown.
Read the report in full – Kent Law Clinic: Overcoming the challenges of Covid and lockdowns