A deprived neighbourhood was in danger of losing its only community facility – until five trainee solicitors from Bristol Law School put their coursework theory into practice – and boosted their CVs.
The Bristol Law School Pro Bono team in the Business Law Debate Room
A new chapter in the history of a building at the heart of its local community has been written by postgraduate law students putting their skills into practice for the public good.
Last year budget cuts sounded the death knell for Bristol’s Eastville Library, but after a neighbourhood group took ownership of the 1950s building it has evolved into a community space for hire by local groups and individuals.
Making the transition from books to bookings required legal expertise to help the group explore its options before setting up a community interest company and completing the first community asset transfer (CAT) of its type in the city.
Cue the award-winning Pro Bono Unit at Bristol Law School, where students on the diploma in Legal Practice Course (LPC) – a prerequisite for professional practice as a solicitor – offer free advice to charities and community groups on company- and property-related matters.
With the support of lecturers who are also qualified solicitors, five students completed the legal work necessary for the South Lockleaze and Purdown Neighbourhood Group to take ownership of the library from Bristol City Council.
“Pro bono work is all about students committing to involvement in a project of their own volition,” explains Cathy Biggs, head of the LPC course at Bristol Law School.
“Commercial pro bono projects are pretty unusual and our students have gained enormous benefit from involvement in the Eastville CAT, which really has shown practice-led learning at its best.
“As well as enabling real client contact from an early stage, the brief proved a great way of getting students involved in an acquisition that local people were really passionate about from start to completion.”
Now known as The Old Library, the building that has provided social and educational facilities for one of the UK’s most deprived communities for 66 years is well on its way to becoming a vibrant, modern, multi-use space including café, garden, book swap and spaces for hire.
And it’s not just the neighbourhood group that’s looking to a promising future. The Law School students who worked on the project benefited from the real- world experience and have boosted their CVs as a result.
“Taking part in a pro bono project gave me a really valuable insight into commercial work and has helped my CV stand out from the crowd,” says Scarlett Guy, who found a job with a top Bristol law firm as a direct result of her involvement.
“Eastville and other extra-curricular opportunities were by far the biggest factor in helping me secure the job I wanted. As well as enabling me to put theory learned on the LPC course into practice, I gained the confidence to hit the ground running as I embark on my career.”
Bristol Law School is part of the University of the West of England and has been educating the legal profession for more than 40 years. It is one of only a select few UK law schools that offers all stages of the legal education process, enabling students to study law and continue to qualify as a solicitor or barrister by taking a full- or part-time Master of Laws (LLM) postgraduate degree in the same, fully supported learning environment.