Free Legal Advice
While accessing a solicitor or barrister that you pay for yourself may be expensive, there are ways to access free legal advice in the UK. From government schemes like legal aid, to charities and organisations that can provide the information you need, there are multiple avenues for those who cannot afford legal advice to head down.
The Legal Aid Scheme
In England and Wales, legal aid is available to those who have been accused of a crime, and those who need help for housing, debt, family benefits, or education problems. Legal aid will pay for legal advice, as well as mediation services. For example; you may need legal advice regarding a housing benefit issue, or you may need mediation services for a dispute. This list is not exhaustive, and some people can get legal aid for other problems; for example, medical battery claims.
Legal aid does not always cover the cost of having a solicitor represent you in court. Sometimes it will be used to provide advice, draw up legal agreements, or mediate between family members who are experiencing a dispute. People most commonly access legal aid for information regarding employment disputes, divorce, debt and housing evictions, and criminal convictions.
In order to get legal aid for a civil case, it is down to you to demonstrate that you cannot afford to pay your own legal fees. You will be asked to provide details about your employment, income, essential outgoings, and any property you own. With regards to criminal cases, your solicitor can check on your behalf. For those who cannot get legal aid, the government also provides a free legal advice service called 'community legal advice'. This can provide you with advice that will help you represent yourself in court.
Free Legal Advice Clinics
For those who cannot access legal aid, but would still like the opportunity to talk with a professional face-to-face, free legal advice clinics provide a viable alternative. Unlike the community legal advice helpline, they will allow you to go into a clinic, present an individual with documents or evidence, and engage in a one-to-one consultation. Some also draft a letter for those who go there, which can be invaluable in benefits disputes, or when writing to an ombudsman regarding a topic you do not understand.
One organisation that provides free legal advice clinics is Law Works. Law Works is regulated by the Law Society, which means those who give advice there are qualified to do so. If a Law Works clinic is not in your area, you can see if a member of the Law Centres Network is available. The Law Centres Network provides legal advice to those who are living in various locations across the UK, and is a National Lottery funded project. Another source of free legal advice that is more readily available is the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). Most CAB centres are run by a mixture of legal professionals, as well as those who have worked in policy making areas and therefore have a good grasp of the law. Each of these clinics is ideal for gaining advice that you can use to plan your next move in a dispute.
Student Pro Bono Schemes
As it stands, there are more law graduates than there are jobs. This means that students have to gain experience by offering their services on a pro bono basis. This need gave rise to the Student Pro Bono Scheme, which is a database of law students who are able to offer legal advice to those who cannot afford to pay for it. These students come from a mix of undergraduate universities that provide LLB qualifications, and postgraduate universities training those who have already obtained their LLB and now want to become a solicitor or barrister.
Specialist Free Legal Advice
As many aspects of UK life are regulated, there are multiple ombudsmen available to provide free legal advice and support to those who need it. For example, those who are facing an employment dispute may wish to contact ACAS. Not only do ACAS provide guidelines on how to properly approach an employment dispute, they also ensure that those who require representation in tribunals can access it. Their support can help those with workplace grievances settle them in the smoothest way possible, and they are particularly adept at assisting those who have experienced disability discrimination.
Searching for free medical legal advice may lead you towards solicitors who offer no win no fee services; these services may also come with an up-front insurance fee. However, there are charities available for those who simply want some basic advice so that they know how to proceed with their case. One of these charities is Action Against Medical Accidents, which provides a free helpline and a panel of medical negligence solicitors. Such advice can be invaluable for those who want to determine whether they have a medical negligence case or not, without having to worry about the fees associated with using a solicitor.
Aside from Action Against Medical Accidents and ACAS, there are multiple organisations covering just about every aspect of the law. From human rights issues, to family disputes, specialised charities exist to ensure that those who need free legal advice can access it.
The Next Stage: Representing Yourself in Court
Even when armed with free legal advice, you may find the process of representing yourself in court becomes a bit daunting. If that is the case, you may also be able to obtain a representative from one of the charities you use. Alternatively, you can take a McKenzie friend. A McKenzie friend can be anybody, and they will simply accompany you to court and sit with you as a legal representative would. They can speak on your behalf, and can provide a level of emotional support that will make the process less overwhelming. Regardless of whether you take a McKenzie friend, go alone, or obtain free representation, there is free legal advice available and you will not be left completely alone.