Clifford Chance Celebrates Helping Over 150 Families Through 15 Year Charity Partnership With The National Autistic Society

Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 12:01

Over 150 families have been helped by an innovative partnership between Clifford Chance and The National Autistic Society's (NAS) Education Rights Service, providing pro-bono legal advice. The two organisations marked the 15th anniversary of their alliance last night (30 November) at an event involving families, volunteers and staff.

There are around 140,000 school-aged children on the autism spectrum in the UK, the vast majority in mainstream schools, and many of them rely on extra support in school to reach their full potential. But far too many parents face long and stressful battles to get access to this support and rely on advice and help from organisations and charities like the NAS and its Education Rights Service.

Clifford Chance's partnership with the NAS was launched in 2000 to help families who can’t afford legal representation. Since then, Clifford Chance has provided pro-bono support in 151 cases, 85% of which reached a positive outcome. Last year alone this resulted in almost 2,000 hours of pro bono support, saving families on legal fees that they would otherwise have needed to pay.

Clifford Chance's partnership with the NAS has expanded over the past six years to cover pro-bono support for legal campaigning work around education, welfare and disability rights. This has helped achieve important rulings in the Supreme Court on the fundamental rights of disabled people in terms of the right to an education and the right for those with the most complex needs not to be deprived of their liberty. More recently they helped with a case around the Work Capability Assessment which found it puts people on the autism spectrum at a ‘substantial disadvantage’.

The partnership between Clifford Chance and the NAS has been so successful that similar relationships have been developed with other legal practices*.

Marie Berard, partner at Clifford Chance, comments, "Our pro-bono work with the National Autistic Society is a huge investment for us: over 240 lawyers and trainees have been involved over the past 15 years, dedicating thousands of pro bono hours. There are four reasons why our alliance with the NAS is so important for us. The first reason is that we recognise the critical need for the NAS' Education Rights Service work. The NAS gives us the opportunity to help over 150 families in need who are not receiving the right support for their children, and to make a difference. The second is the NAS itself, who have an uncompromising approach to quality and expect the highest standards from their partners. The third reason is that our advocacy work on these cases matches our skill set as litigators. Last but not least, is the huge personal reward that our lawyers get from helping families. The thank you letters that we receive from parents make everything worthwhile."

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “Our longstanding partnership with Clifford Chance has made a huge difference to many families in desperate need of support. More than 1 in 100 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum. The lifelong condition can have a profound effect on a child and make everyday life extremely difficult but over the past 50 years we’ve seen again and again how the right support can be transformative. However, far too many families still have to fight tooth and nail to get this support. Some come up against schools or local authorities that just won't recognise their child's needs and have to resort to legal action to help their child. Going to appeal can be hugely stressful and overwhelming for those who are able to represent themselves, let alone those who, for whatever reason, simply can’t do this. Our alliance with Clifford Chance gives them a voice and helps them to make sure their child receives the support they so desperately need. We look forward to continuing to work with Clifford Chance in years to come and helping more children to reach their full potential.”

*Harper Macleod LLP for the past nine years, and Exchange Chambers LLP for the past five years