Volunteer John Curran uses his professional skills and experience as a lawyer to make a difference in the community.
In 2010, DLA Piper's London office, in partnership with the Southwark Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), launched a pro bono clinic that provides advice to Southwark Borough residents experiencing difficulty paying or understanding their council tax. I am the Partner Champion of the Clinic and in this role I regularly attend the Clinic, supervise and train our participating junior lawyers and liaise with Southwark CAB on organisational matters.
At the Clinic, we advise clients (a) on their entitlements so that discounts, exemptions and other entitlements can be claimed properly, (b) on how to deal with the council in trying to arrange manageable payment schedules where affordability is a real issue (many of the clients will be on low pay and/or means tested benefits) and (c) on dealing with measures used to enforce council tax and in particular court orders and visits from court bailiffs. A representative of the council is available at each clinic to discuss issues arising so that more often than not a resolution to a problem can be arrived at during the session. This collaborative approach has provided Southwark residents with independent and trusted advice services that offer them the support they need and creates a path to a quick solution.
The Clinic is there to help assist individuals but the resolution of issues at the clinic helps reduce the need for court summons and bailiff action which is of great benefit to the council as well. This means that the Clinic really does result in a win-win situation for all involved.
Since its inception, more than 200 clients have been advised through the Clinic. The appreciation of the service we provide is plain to see on the faces of the people we help at each and every clinic cession. It's very rewarding to be involved in the project particularly since, as a result of the participation of the council, immediate results are often obtained for clients on the spot - something that is rare where legal advice clinics are involved. For the volunteers the scheme also includes a chance to practise and enhance some basic legal skills.
I see the huge benefit the Clinic provides to people in the community and therefore I make my involvement in the Clinic it a priority and fit it into my schedule around the normal demands of my job. DLA Piper has a strong commitment to pro bono and the firm provides a framework to enable lawyers such as myself to use our legal skills in a way that benefits the community. The firm gives full fee credit for pro bono work performed for disadvantaged individuals and charities/NGOs and there is a team of full-time dedicated staff managing our Pro Bono and Corporate Responsibility programmes, so we feel supported and encouraged to engage in pro bono legal work. In 2012, DLA Piper donated 191,800 hours of pro bono legal services to a range of recipients; supporting individuals through local projects such as the Southwark Council Tax Clinic to large scale, strategic, global projects for our NGO clients.
I always recommend volunteering to others. It is immensely rewarding to use your professional skills for the benefit of others.