The Oxford Legal Assistance Programme was warmly endorsed at the end of its first year by the Law Board, which gave it the go-ahead for a further five-years.
The pilot year was full of regular clinics, held weekly, in cooperation with the local law firm Turpin and Miller. During these clinics Oxford’s law students assisted the solicitors in the immigration field by conducting preliminary interviews, taking statements, and generally imparting their time and knowledge in many of the initial steps which are necessary, yet practically time-consuming for attorneys. The students have contributed substantially in an area of law which is seriously under-resourced and have gained a great deal through the process as well. OLA has proven that Oxford University’s law students have a place in pro-bono and are fully capable of using their theoretical skills to impart a substantial benefit on the community.
This year the programme has seen a dramatic spike in interest both by the wider community and by the students themselves. The applicant rate has increased two-fold among students (over 100 this year, up from approximately 55 last year).
Oxford Legal Assistance has taken significant steps forward beyond a simple increase in willing volunteers. In the current year Turpin and Miller, OLA’s partner law firm, has approved plans to allow students to assist in the area of debt in addition to the current focus on the immigration field. In addition to working directly with clients, OLA assistants are also involved in project research and document arrangement, thereby allowing the students a wider grasp of a law firm’s components and inner workings. In fact, last year the students researched and wrote an article which was subsequently published in regards to the programme. In addition, OLA is proud to say that they have established a scheme with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau which will allow Oxford law students to take part in weekly clinics in the various areas of law the agency deals with.
Overall OLA has been exactly what the students, the faculty, and the community has hoped for. Never has pro-bono looked so appealing to students or so beneficial to those in need of valuable legal aid. It seems that the success of Oxford Legal Assistance has proven that a well-organized and modest beginning can merit a truly bright future.
Jack Bradley-Seddon & Victoria Usova