The legal sector’s richest charity this week launches a nationwide funding programme to support specialist community organisations.

The Legal Education Foundation, which has assets worth more than £250m, has acted to respond to potential funding shortages in the social welfare sector during the coronavirus crisis. The organisation will work alongside other funders to put together a package of measures.

The charity has already contacted all of the 93 organisations it funds to reassure them they can use the grants they have already received to help them in this period.

It has also given £20,000 to each of Law Centres Network, AdviceUK and the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, to fund provision of dedicated support to their members dealing with Covid-19.

LEF chief executive Matthew Smerdon said: ‘Our priority was to take immediate steps to show the social justice organisations we work with that we’ve got their backs.

‘We don’t underestimate the scale of the challenge, but we believe that if resources are marshalled in a strategic and sustained way, the Covid-19 crisis could be a defining moment in harnessing the power of the law as a tool for positive change.’

The charity’s origins date back to the 19th century but it came into its current form when its owner the College of Law sold its education and training business and devoted funds to endow the LEF as a grant-making foundation.

According to accounts published in January, 80 grants worth around £6m were made during the year ending June 2019, compared with 92 grants valued at £5.7m the year before. Overall, 51% of the grant applications made during 2018/19 were met. A further £7.7m was expected to be spent in 2019/20

Around £2.6m is allocated to advance high-quality thinking and practice in legal education, with £1.8m spent on increasing public understanding of the law and £1.6m put towards increasing employment opportunities in the profession – mostly through its Justice First Fellowship scheme. This project was established in 2014 to help create the next generation of social welfare lawyers: by June 2019 there were 66 graduates working in the law and 33 qualified as solicitors or barristers.

Cash balances at June 2019 were £20.9m, of which £17.8m was earmarked for long-term investment and £3.1m was working capital.

It is the governors’ policy to maintain fixed asset investments, otherwise known as the capital fund, at £200m in real terms. By June 2019 the value of the fund was £258.6, which provides a ‘small cushion’ following a period of considerable asset growth, which is not expected to continue, and could reduce over the coming years. The charity made almost £4m income from investments in 2018/19.


*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.