A little background story
We had the idea to start a virtual legal advice service back in June 2018. We had the idea, created a basic but secure help desk type system but had no way of financing the actual project, despite making funding applications and reaching out to a number of organisations and companies about the idea.
Our founder, Sibon, having over a decade of experience supporting and providing pro bono services within the community, saw gaps in how legal services were being provided and the people and communities that were not being reached. She just knew that providing an online advice service where people could access legal help straight from their laptop, computer or smart phone device would make law easily accessible, especially for the disabled and infirmed; those who live in remote areas where there is no local advice centre, those who work full time and cannot access local advice organisations during their restricted opening times of usually 9:00am - 4.30pm and those who simply want to find out if they do have a legal claim and what their rights are before seeking assistance from a solicitor or law firm.
Starting from somewhere...
Although the system was built and ready to use, we did not have the financial resources to do anything with it and therefore we concentrated on community clinics in areas where we felt support was needed. We held EU Settlement Support and Windrush Support clinics for a while, in Birmingham, Nottingham and London. During this time, we secured some funding that enabled us to provide legal support in the community which helped frame the online service and the areas of law that we would cover.
Materialising the idea
Fast forward to March 2020 when the pandemic started! Cancelling our community clinics meant only one thing - if we wanted to continue providing legal support, it was time to launch our website and virtual legal advice service and provide advice in the following areas: Contractual disputes, Consumer rights, Employment law, Housing law, Immigration and Race Equality.
Impact and growth
From April 2020 up until mid August, we have advised and assisted 172 people online. A lot of these people would have found themselves in a difficult position, been illegally evicted, left homeless, without a job and wrongly denied services if we were not available to help them. We have grown from 9 volunteers to 49 volunteers during this pandemic, which include solicitors, barristers, legal executives, paralegals, law graduates and law students.
We were recently shortlisted for a National Diversity Award out of 60,000 nominations and votes and will be attending the ceremony in February 2021!
We have been featured on BBC radio a few times and some of our volunteers and clients have been featured in local newspaper and magazine publications.
Why we are crowdfunding
The demand in legal advice during this pandemic has led to us needing to raise money to keep our service going as initially we were piloting it for three months. The past five months have shown us that the service is really needed and we want to continue it and expand our services.
The funds raised will be used to cover the cost of maintaining the website and online support system that operates the virtual advice service and where people can send their legal inquires through.The support system is built like a help desk where inquiries are submitted as tickets, which are then assigned to a volunteer adviser to deal with. The system allows people to send documents related to their inquiry and responses are sent straight to their email.
The funds raised will also help towards marketing, insurance and employing staff as we have seen that as demand grows, this service cannot just be supported solely by volunteers and we need to hire at least two people to begin with.
Here are some testimonials we received from some of the people who accessed our virtual advice service and were helped: