In recent years, cuts to legal aid have left some of the most vulnerable people in our communities lacking access to vital legal services. This means more and more people are relying on schemes that give them access to justice for free. I am the student chairman of Oxford Legal Assistance (OLA), the University of Oxford’s pro bono legal scheme run by law students alongside their studies.

OLA is affiliated to and supported by Oxford University Law Faculty and sponsored by the London-based law firm, Baker and McKenzie. More than 30 undergraduate and graduate student volunteers each give up about two to three hours of their week each year to volunteer.

As a second-year undergraduate, I work on the scheme because I believe everyone should have the opportunity to access justice.

I spend a lot of my time studying in the law library or at lectures, but away from the books, through the scheme I am able to apply my legal skills and knowledge to support solicitors dealing with real situations.

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There are two ways Oxford’s undergraduate students help: we assist the Oxford branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau, as well as at a solicitors firm in Cowley.

CAB offices across the country are busier than ever, and volunteers spend a lot of their time working on cases related to personal debt issues. More and more people fall into the trap of taking on short-term loans with high interest rates, and then find it hard to pay back the loans.

We shadow CAB advisers who talk through options with people with debt issues. Later this year we will carry out a research project on the advice provided by CAB on personal debt to try to identify areas where CAB offices nationally can provide an even more effective service.

We are also working with solicitors Turpin and Miller, which has an office off Cowley Road. Quite a few of their clients are seeking advice on immigration matters. An initial assessment is carried out into whether clients qualify for legal aid, which is where we come in.

We help carry out interviews with clients, a fairly lengthy process taking about an hour for each client.

We write up the facts in the initial assessment for the solicitors, which releases them to make more time for the more complicated work they are qualified to do. People without resources can feel powerless and unable to even consider instructing lawyers to look into their case. But clients here find out what their legal options are, free of charge.

This year about 10 graduate students from Oxford University will also be assisting lawyers at Turpin and Miller to prepare bail applications for those detained at Campsfield Immigration Detention Centre. Successful applications give detainees more freedom in the run-up to the hearing.

This scheme provides us, the students, with a fascinating window on a diversity of cases and people seeking legal advice.

From session to session, you don’t know who will walk through the door. There are always more applicants than there are OLA spaces for volunteers.

OLA allows us to apply our skills and knowledge in a practical context, and use them to solve real life problems and help real people. With more cuts to legal services on the way, the work done by OLA and similar schemes at universities across the country will only become more important in the future.

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