Since opening the doors to clients in October 2013, we have run weekly advice sessions specifically aimed at meeting the needs of the local community. These sessions were run as drop-ins for the first 12 months and covered advice on Welfare Benefits and Debts as well as an assortment of other legal issues.
In order to see more people with fewer staff, we designed the service to (i) quickly assess the merits of the legal case, (ii) cut the ongoing work up into manageable stages and (iii) agree with the client what help we will provide at each stage as the case progresses. This will be different in each case and requires an honest assessment of someone’s skills and abilities. Some of our clients have been able to deal with more stages of their own case than others but we have found that this approach has enabled us to see more clients overall.
Of course, this way of working is not suitable for all of our clients and, where matters are particularly complex or clients are vulnerable, then we have undertaken casework. Factors such as a client’s ability to communicate effectively in English, their ability to cope with multiple problems or the extent to which outcomes impact on children, the disabled and the elderly inform the decisions we make to target our limited resources and prioritise cases.
The success of our community advice sessions has in no small measure been down to the ability of our solicitor, Habib Ullah, to conduct culturally sensitive advice sessions in community languages and to understand the needs of the local community and build their trust in us. It is noticeable that the number of Somali clients has steadily increased over the year and we are very proud that this community feels comfortable in approaching us for help.
The drop-in service has been inundated and many times we have had to extend the sessions well beyond the allocated time. Habib has regularly seen 17 or 18 clients in a session and the waiting room has often been full within half an hour of opening the door. Indeed, by September 2014 it became clear that, due to the large number of clients turning up, the drop-in had become unsustainable. We have now introduced an appointment system to avoid long waiting times.