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Pro Bono Week: Students helping bereaved families seek justice

Press release issued: 4 November 2019

As part of our Pro Bono Week series we talked to Law student, Matt Bennett, about his role in the Law Clinic's new Inquest service that helped him #DoMoreWithLaw

The Law Clinic has launched a new inquest service. What is an inquest?

So, an inquest is a fact-finding investigation into someone's death where it involves the public authority like the police or a hospital.

How does the Law Clinic help?

Inquests can be very confusing to families because there is very little legal aid available and they often find themselves in the middle of this process, just trying to find answers but up against experienced barristers and solicitors representing those authorities.

What kind of support does the inquest service provide?

So with the inquest service the Law Clinic helps bereaved families in a number of ways. So, firstly we give them letters of advice to set out their options then we can also help them choose evidence, understand evidence that they've been given and also what kind of questions they need to be asking. We can then also advocate on their behalf should they require it.

What made you decide to study law at the University of Bristol?

Before I came to Bristol, I was studying History at Edinburgh University. However, although I really enjoyed it, I got a bit frustrated because although it was very academically interesting, it didn't feel like it was leading anywhere, it didn't feel like it was very practical and so I decided to do the MA Law which is a two-year graduate conversion course to Law which is a bit more academically rigorous than something like the GDL which is very quick. For the Clinic, when I was given my tour around the Law School, I got a chance to see it and was immediately captivated by what was going on.

It was really impressive, the fact that they have their own building and all of the staff seem really engaged. I also really wanted the chance to try some cases hands-on, alongside my studies as well.

What is it that you like about the Law Clinic?

I would say that the Law Clinic is quite a diverse place. On the one hand, you get to meet lots of different students. As a Postgraduate I don't often get to speak to people who are undergraduates and yet I have met and worked with loads at the Law Clinic which has given me a different perspective on things. Also, you get to meet so many different clients and so many different cases; I have done cases ranging from family property disputes and I'm currently working on a software dispute as well as an inquest on the side so a huge variety of different things. You get to grips with different areas of Law and at the same time, it's very practical.

All of the supervisors are qualified solicitors rather than caseworkers, in fact in 2014 the Law School made a conscious choice to transfer the Law Clinic from being student-led to practitioner-led for that reason so all the solicitors who supervise us are also Teaching associates and I know they have a role in teaching on the clinical legal studies module which is unavailable to me but I know that it certainly informed their experience about how they interact with all the other students who volunteer in the clinic.

What impact does the Law Clinic have for its clients?

It's not always obvious to see the impact in people's lives but many times clients have told me how grateful they are, that even just small pieces of advice that someone has been there to show them how to do something because law is complicated, it’s confusing and frankly a lot of people don't have the time to commit to finding the answers whereas as law students, we might not be professional lawyers yet but we at least have an opportunity to understand how the process of researching different laws and problems works, which is why we're better placed to advise them.

What are the opportunities that arise from working with the Law Clinic?

So, the possible avenues that the law clinic can give you are pretty much endless. Some people want to be solicitors, barristers, to do things unrelated to law entirely or just work in charities and I've seen and met people who are interested in doing some or all of those. Personally, for me, one thing that has been unique about the law clinic is it's allowed me to think aspects of the law in a more academic sense. I'm currently doing a very difficult case at the minute, but it's raised some fascinating issues and it's something I'm now going to explore in my dissertation project.

Moving forward it's made me think that I'd like to explore more academically and, in more depth, and I'm currently looking to apply for a role at the Law Commission.

What advice would you give to students considering working with the Law Clinic?

If I had to give advice to anyone who was looking to get involved in the clinic I would just say; think about what you want to do. A lot of people come to the Law clinics and volunteering experiences with the idea that it is a stepping stone to a job in corporate law or something else. And it's true, these are valid experiences that firms will think are impressive. However, I wouldn't necessarily come to this unless you are truly interested in helping people. So that's the biggest advice I can give - just be interested and engaged with helping to solve people's problems because at the end of the day they are real people not just a question in a book.

Further information

Pro Bono Week is an annual occasion to recognise and celebrate the valuable voluntary contributions of lawyers giving free legal aid to those in need. Find out how you can #DoMoreWithLaw 

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