An exciting new scheme established by Kent Law School enables law students to be trained as Student Outdoor Clerks and assist local defence lawyers during Crown Court proceedings.
Outdoor Clerks used to be sent to court by firms of solicitors to make detailed notes for advocates during trials and fact-finding hearings. However, the role disappeared in the wake of successive legal aid cuts and reforms.
The Law School’s new Student Outdoor Clerk (SOC) scheme has been established in consultation with Kent Law Society and Kent Law Clinic, to offer a helping hand to busy advocates. But it’s also a valuable opportunity for law students to gain practical legal experience in the courtroom.
Kent Law School’s Director of Lawyering Skills Darren Weir said: ‘Outdoor Clerks used to be the “eyes and ears” of the solicitors’ firm. Now, whilst an advocate is on their feet cross examining a witness, they have to remember what the witness said and try and make their own notes. That’s sometimes hard in the middle of questioning as you can imagine.’
The idea for a SOC scheme was first piloted by Trevor Linn, a practising Barrister and qualified duty solicitor, who joined Kent Law School as an academic in 2020. In March 2021, an article on ‘Vulnerability, the future of the criminal defence profession, and the implications for teaching and learning’ in The Law Teacher prompted Trevor and Darren to take further action. Darren said: ‘In consultation with Graham Tegg (Director of Kent Law Clinic), and the local Law Society, Trevor and I rose to the challenge from that paper and came up with a scheme whereby we train students and then send them to sit behind the advocate at court.’
Final-year Law LLB student Endrit Sadiki was among the first to get involved with the innovative scheme. He said: ‘I believed it would give me the experience I needed to truly understand the day-to-day functions of the court and the many professionals that work within them. I wanted to do more than just be a passive observer of the whole process but instead get involved and work alongside the legal professionals. I also wanted to help make sure the client gets the best legal service possible.’
Endrit recently worked alongside Sadie Castle, a paralegal at Tuckers Solicitors, to support the firm’s appointed barrister at a seven-day historic sexual abuse trial. In addition to sitting behind the barrister and making accurate notes throughout the trial, Endrit was tasked to take notes of any conferences between counsel and defendant. This included any legal advice given by the barrister. Endrit said: ‘I also assisted Saide in saving and printing out important pictures that were to be used as evidence in the court trial. Overall, the experience was incredible. It helped me to understand the inner workings of the court and criminal justice system while also showing me the duties and job of a legal professional.’
Sadie was grateful for Endrit’s assistance and is keen to make further use of the new SOC Scheme. She said: ‘Endrit was of great assistance and his notes were very thorough and extremely helpful. I was very pleased he was able to clerk the duration of the trial.’
Endrit said his co-curricular studies as part of the Law School’s Lawyering Skills Programme were crucial in helping prepare him to take on the role. This included gaining a clear understanding of the same ethical and professional standards that all solicitors must abide by. He said: ‘All the duties and tasks that needed to be fulfilled as an SOC were explained in detail to us through the Lawyering Skills Programme. This training allowed me to not only be an effective Outdoor Clerk but also made sure I would enjoy the whole experience to its fullest. I knew exactly what my purpose was in court and didn’t have to worry about whether I was doing my job correctly.’
Throughout the trial, Darren was on hand to Endrit for advice. Endrit said: ‘He stayed in contact with me through the seven-day court trial, offering further support and gathering feedback on how the experience was going for me and how I could be more effective as an Outdoor Clerk.’
Local lawyers keen to take advantage of the SOC Scheme are encouraged to get in touch with Darren for more details: firstname.lastname@example.org