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Providing legal advice for the public - Anne Hudson
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Providing legal advice for the public - Anne Hudson

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A handout from the Legal Information training day held by SINTO on 8th April 2010.

A handout from the Legal Information training day held by SINTO on 8th April 2010.

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  • 1. Providing legal advice for the public 1. Introduction This information was provided for a seminar held at Sheffield Hallam University in April 2010 and is designed to show how people who need legal advice can access this if their first approach is to a library. 2. What advice do people need ? People will approach advice centres about a number of issues and will need advice at differing levels. There are two main types of advice : generalist and specialist. A generalist provider will know the basics of a large number of areas of law, enough to diagnose an issue and give information and simple one-off advice. A generalist worker should know enough to pass the case to a specialist worker if required. Specialist advice comes from a worker who is an expert in one or two areas of law and can access specialist information and caselaw. Specialist advisers will usually offer some type of representation. Levels of advice needed : • Information – basic knowledge such as how many days holiday an employee is legally entitled to each year or where to complain about their solicitor. Information needs to be accurate and appropriate. It is also important that the information provided flags up where action needs to be taken (for example deadline dates for court or tribunal submissions). • Self-Help Information – information to assist them to take action themselves such as guidance on making a claim to an employment tribunal or the small claims court. This needs to be accurate and appropriate. Clients have different abilities to use self-help information. • One-Off Advice – Need a quick discussion with an adviser either to allow them to complete the case themselves or to decided that there is no point in proceeding or even to fill in an application form. For example they may wish to have guidance on what to put in a complaint letter or to know if they can legally take an unfair dismissal claim. Often one-off advice will result in no further action being taken -1– Anne Hudson Sheffield Law Centre Enquiry Line : 0114 2731888 Website – www.slc.org.uk
  • 2. either because no further action can be taken or there is no merit in continuing. • Casework – Where a caseworker (may be a solicitor or may not) discusses the case and options with the client and then takes instructions from the client about how to proceed. May write or telephone on behalf of client and may negotiate on behalf of client with landlord or employer. A casefile will be created to which the client can have access. The case will continue whilst there is sufficient merit in the case. • Representation – Attending court or tribunal to put the case for a client or engaging a barrister where appropriate. Areas of advice The amount and types of legal advice are legion but the main areas of law on which advice is generally available are (list not exclusive) : Charity law Children law Civil liberties and human rights Civil litigation Clinical negligence Commercial law Commercial property Company law Competition law Computer and IT law Consumer law Conveyancing residential Criminal law Debt problems Disability Discrimination law EU law Employment law Environmental law Family law Fraud Immigration law Intellectual property law International law (non EU) Landlord and tenant - residential -2– Anne Hudson Sheffield Law Centre Enquiry Line : 0114 2731888 Website – www.slc.org.uk
  • 3. Mental health and incapacity law Personal injury Planning law Tax law Trust law Welfare Benefits Wills and probate 3. What advice/information is available ? Information is available from a variety of sources : • Books – specialist law books, law books for the general reader and self-help books. Need to ensure that these are up to date. Most libraries will not hold the variety of books needed to cover all the areas of law required but some are very good such as those which help with wills and conveyancing. • Helplines – many organisations offer helplines which can provide free information and even one-off advice. Good examples include ACAS or those provided by charities such as RNIB. The Legal Services Commission provides a free legal advice line. • Internet – there are a myriad of sites offering free legal advice often with downloadable factsheets. Caution needs to be taken to ensure that the site is from a reputable source, is up to date and is dealing with UK law. Getting advice by e-mail is not usual. Legal advice is obtainable from private practice solicitors who will charge. It is wise to look for a solicitor who specialises in that area of law. Many solicitors will give half an hour free advice or run an advice surgery which is also free. Some solicitors offer a “no win no fee” arrangement on cases, usually in employment law. This means that the solicitor will often not take on a case unless there is a good chance of succeeding and there is a substantial money payment likely to be received. Legal Aid. There are two (main) types of legal aid. Legal Help is advice and representation delivered in a specialist area of law for cases which would be heard in lower courts or tribunals. Legal Help is also usually available at magistrate courts for criminal matters and county courts for those in danger of eviction. Firms of solicitors and not-for-profit advice agencies have contracts with the Legal Services Commission to deliver this advice which is free to the client and also covers incidental disbursements -3– Anne Hudson Sheffield Law Centre Enquiry Line : 0114 2731888 Website – www.slc.org.uk
  • 4. such as interpreters bills, barristers fees and medical reports. Other legal aid covers cases taken to county court and above and may involve a financial contribution from the client. All types of legal aid are means tested and it is usually clients on income based benefits or similar levels of income who are eligible. Legal aid is not available in all areas of law (for example it is not available for libel cases). Free legal advice in the not-for-profit sector. Legal advice given by charities and advice agencies is usually free although clients may have to pay for some court fees. What service is available will usually depend on the funding received by the agency, for example they may only be funded to work for clients in a particular geographical area or area of law and they may not have funds for interpreters or other costs. Many agencies also have contracts to deliver legal aid. Not-for-profit advice agencies usually do not give advice to employers, landlords, the providers of goods and services or people in a trade union who need employment advice. The main providers are : • Citizens Advice Bureaux – Independent charities affiliated to a national body. These offer generalist advice and some bureaux offer specialist advice and representation in some areas of law, usually welfare benefits, debt and housing. They usually offer a drop-in service and follow up appointments. Much of the service is delivered by volunteers. • Law Centres – There are over 50 law centres in Britain with most situated in major cities. Law Centres are independent charities which are affiliated to a national body. They deliver specialist law and they all employ solicitors which allow them to take cases to higher courts. All of them have Legal Aid funding but in differing areas of law. • Other advice agencies – There are a large number of independent advice agencies, usually affiliated to Advice UK. Some work like CABx but are more independent and others are organisations such as Age Concern which might serve one geographic or demographic community. Some are provided by local authorities. The situation with not-for-profit advice agencies and the availability of free advice will vary considerably from area to area. In many areas there are developing umbrella bodies which can assist in finding providers and which may also be developing electronic referral systems to allow agencies to make appointments for clients at other, more appropriate, local agencies. -4– Anne Hudson Sheffield Law Centre Enquiry Line : 0114 2731888 Website – www.slc.org.uk
  • 5. Most not-for-profit advice agencies do not have websites and most do not advertise locally. This is usually because they cannot meet the level of demand locally for their services and do not wish to raise expectations that help and assistance is available. This can make it difficult to find the appropriate local agency without some research. 4. Caution – why you should NOT give advice ? • You may think you know it but the situation/law may have changed. This happens all the time with legal advice and caseworkers are encouraged to look everything up with the latest resources. This is also an issue with information gleaned from books and Internet. • Your lack of specialist knowledge may result in you raising the hopes and expectations of possibly vulnerable people inaccurately. • You are NOT insured. Advice agencies and solicitors pay considerable sums of money for professional indemnity insurance each year in case they give incorrect information or miss an important deadline which results in a client being unable to take a case. It is important, even if you only assist a person in getting information, to be clear that you are not giving advice and only assisting them. • It is unlawful to give immigration advice without being registered with the OISC. You must be sure that you do not give any immigration advice and that you signpost people to a specialist provider. 5. Useful links – some starter sites To find a solicitor www.communitylegaladvice.org.uk or www.lawsociety.org.uk To find a not-for-profit advice agency www.adviceuk.org.uk or www.lawcentres.org.uk or www.citizensadvice.org.uk. Good websites with up to date legal information (you may wish to add to this or develop your own local list) : • www.adviceguide.org.uk - maintained by Citizens Advice • www.employmenttribunals.gov.uk - assists with making and employment tribunal claim • www.homeoffice.gov.uk - immigration forms and information • www.acas.org.uk - information on employment rights -5– Anne Hudson Sheffield Law Centre Enquiry Line : 0114 2731888 Website – www.slc.org.uk