Many lawyers represent clients on a ‘no-win, no fee’ basis – lawyers call these arrangements ‘conditional fee agreements’. Alternatively, you might also want to check out the small print on your household or motor insurance to see if you’re covered by legal expenses insurance policies. Trade unions and other membership organizations such as the AA offer differing amounts of free legal advice. Over recent years, trade unions have been increasingly diversifying into membership services, notably legal advice for member and their families. Legal cover goes beyond accidents and workplace disputes. Unison offers free legal advice on any matter through up to half an hour on the phone, as well as free wills and conveyancing services.
The legal profession has a number of what they call ‘pro bono’ (free legal advice) initiatives. For a guide to pro bono services see wwww.probonouk.net. It suggests that you start by going to you local Citizens Advice Bureau or a legal aid lawyer. LawWorks (supported by the Law Society) is a charity that aims to provide free legal help to individuals and community groups who cannot afford to pay and who are unable to access legal aid. They try to find a volunteer solicitor for individuals who cannot afford to pay for legal help and cannot access legal aid. They say that individual casework has ‘proved particularly helpful for applicants with consumer, contract, property, and employment problems’. They do not provide legal advice itself (‘we are a middleman, and cannot advise via email, telephone or any other method’).
According to their website, they need at least four weeks before any deadline to process any application, and warn it can take at least eight weeks to find a volunteer lawyer. They don’t accept applications in relation to starting a case, crime or police complaints, family, immigration, personal injury, judicial review, and complaints about a lawyer. It also runs a free clinics service.
There are other organisations such as the Free Representation Unit. Any case has to be referred to the unit (so you cannot approach them directly). It provides representation for cases in the employment tribunals (and appeals from decisions of the Employment Tribunals); social security appeals first-tier tribunal (and appeals from such decisions); criminal injury compensation cases in the first-tier tribunal (and appeals from such decisions). It can only help if you have already started your case or appeal and been given a hearing date, unless you are appealing from another tribunal decision.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award