A free SEND legal advice clinic to guide you through the jungle

When you find yourself at the start - or even stuck in the middle - of trying to secure the support your child with special educational needs requires, it can seem you've been dropped into the middle of a dense jungle. It's why I named this website as I did back in 2008, and it's hard to believe that it's even more of a tangled mess today than it was in the days of SEN statements.

A free SEND legal advice clinic to guide you through the jungle

You can find free, personalised advice, from the Information, Advice and Support Service (SEND IASS) that is the duty of the LA to provide at arms-length, or from IPSEA, SOSSEN, and Contact. You can also find much information on this site, although we are not a support service. All these services are very busy, given the mess SEND is in.

But did you know there is another free source of advice? The Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre, run by Queen Mary University London, has launched a small specialist clinic for families struggling with getting SEND advice. Barrister, Frances Ridout, who is Director of the Legal Advice Centre (CLE) is here to tell you all about it and how you can use the service.

Free legal advice to guide you through the Special Educational Needs Jungle

by Frances Ridout, Director of the Legal Advice Centre, Queen Mary University, London

The Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre is a free community law centre which is run by Queen Mary University of London.  It is a clinical legal education initiative which started in 2006.  Trained and supervised law students give free legal advice to members of the public through a range of different clinics and across different areas of the law. In 2019 the Queen Mary School of Law won the award for Best Contribution by a Law School at the national LawWorks and Attorney General Award Student Pro Bono Awards held in the House of Commons. This prestigious award recognised the depth and breadth of the work undertaken by over 300 students each year and the contribution made to the local community. The Centre has advised almost 3000 clients in its 13-year history. 

Recognising the huge unmet need for legal advice, for families living with Special Educational Needs, the QMLAC launched a specialist clinic in September 2018 in this area.  The Centre is based in the heart of east London and uses Student Advisers (supervised by volunteer barristers and solicitors who are specialist in the SEND law) to advise clients on a range of legal issues.  The Centre is open during university term time and is free of charge. For more information on the advice that is available please see here: http://www.lac.qmul.ac.uk/advice/special-educational-needs-and-school-exclusions/.

SEN and school exclusions project

How have they been trained in SEND law?

The students on this project receive training in legal research, drafting, interview skills and a specialist overview of the law in the area from SOS!SEN We train them to use legal databases like they would use in practice and the Legal Advice Centre tries to operate like a solicitor’s office to replicate practice.  Students are introduced to the area of law and expected to do research and independent learning themselves.  All work is thoroughly supervised and checked by a qualified and practising lawyer in this area. 

We were able to launch the project after generous funding from the Society of Legal Scholars, which enabled Queen Mary Law Department to hold a conference in November 2018.  This conference considered whether there was scope for a clinical legal education project of this nature.  Speakers included academics, barristers, solicitors, and a local council representative.  Delegates ranged from those who work in the area to specialist parent groups.  One interesting point to come from the conference was a desire from parents to learn the area of law more formally (receiving a qualification through distance learning). This is something the Queen Mary Law Department are considering. 

Following our conference, in its initial six months, our SEND clinic (with four students and two volunteer lawyers) assisted six families.  We aim to double that in the academic year 2019-20.  The long term plan is to launch an optional undergraduate module for students on the LLB to study the subjects and concurrently undertake cases at the clinic. This symbiotic relationship provides much-needed assistance to the community, while developing lawyers with a thorough education, and a commitment to undertaking pro bono work. 

How can you access the clinic?

If you need legal advice, get in touch by sending an email to lac@qmul.ac.uk Include your name, contact number and the best time to call you back. A member of the team will try to call you back when you have specified, to ask you a few details about your situation.  If the case is then suitable, we will book you in for a 45 minute appointment.  These take place in the evenings and can be in person, via Skype or on the telephone (whichever suits your needs best).  Our appointments for next year are once a month (during term time) on a Thursday. 

The appointment will be conducted by a Student Adviser who is supervised.  The Student Adviser will ask you details about your case and then provide you with legal advice in writing 14 days after your appointment.  Unfortunately, we cannot represent you at a Tribunal, but we can support you in the preparation of your case.  Although we cannot offer you representation, the advice given is full, detailed and tailored to your specific queries and concerns. Clients are welcome to come back for more than one appointment if the case progresses and they need further advice, but we cannot guarantee you will see the same Student Adviser.   

If you have any questions or you are interested in finding out about our service, please do not hesitate to get in touch. 
The website again, is http://www.lac.qmul.ac.uk/

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Tania Tirraoro

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