The Law Centres Network is appealing to City firms to help raise £250,000 for ‘crisis navigators’ to support vulnerable people with non-legal problems, freeing up lawyers’ time to focus on the legal work.

Earlier this year the network warned that millions of people are in danger of falling into a hidden ‘justice gap’. Law Centres Network director Julie Bishop said law centres have been getting an increasing number of calls during the pandemic from people ‘in crisis, at a loss as to accessing the vital support they need to get by’ and law centres are predicting a winter surge of demand for help.

The network wants to fund 40 full-time crisis navigators to help with issues that cause or run alongside people’s legal problems, such as managing household debt and applying for benefits.

Ealing Law Centre and South West London Law Centres have been pioneering crisis navigation services over the past year. Commons, a not-for-profit law firm, is also piloting a service to help vulnerable clients caught up in the criminal justice system.

Ealing director and solicitor Vicky Fewkes said: ‘Our crisis navigator has been a lifeline for our centre and has helped hundreds of people navigate the benefits system and get their lives back on track. Crisis navigators free our lawyers to focus on legal work.'

Sue James, supervising solicitor at Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre, previously spoke to the Gazette about the benefits of crisis navigators. In one particular case, a mother, who was a victim of domestic abuse, faced eviction. James, who was duty solicitor, persuaded the judge to grant an adjournment. The crisis navigator helped the mother, who had eight weeks’ rent arrears, sort out her housing benefit. When she returned to court, she was in credit.

City law firm Herbert Smith Freehills has already pledged support to towards the Law Centre Network’s fund. Corporate and charities solicitor Rebecca Perlman said: ‘As a profession it is our duty to ensure equality before the law and without law centres across the country this would be impossible. We’re proud to help fund crisis navigators to help more people to access support when they need it.’