The concept of the Independent or Community Law Centre (CLC) is well established in several jurisdictions, such as Canada and Australia. There are examples in Ireland, with the Coolock Community Law Centre (now Northside Community Law & Mediation Centre) in existence for over 30 years. Independent law centres are not operated by government or any commercial interest. All independent law centres are non-profit voluntary bodies which are accountable to the community that they seek to serve. Solicitors who operate and are employed in Independent Law Centres in Ireland are regulated by the Solicitors Acts 1954-2002 (Independent Law Centres) Regulations 2006 (SI 103/2006).
A CLC will usually be based in a disadvantaged community and will provide legal services that reflect the issues affecting people living and working in the area. It will aim to make the law accessible by provide information on legal rights and entitlements and on how the legal system works. Issues affecting local people are discussed in local forums and this in turn leads to local campaigns on relevant areas such as housing, welfare or the environment. FLAC believes that CLCs are a crucial part of the civil legal aid infrastructure.
CLCs are particularly well suited to engage in policy and law reform work, as they are situated in the community campaigning for change. They engage in community legal education to help people to understand law and the legal system, as well as its meaning in their lives. Although they may receive state funding, CLCs are run by their community, either through participating in its management or through volunteering and other activities such as fundraising. In this way, CLCs promote social inclusion.
CLCs may engage in strategic litigation and test cases, using targeted legal representation to achieve a result to benefit a community beyond the immediate client. In this way issues with wider public interest will reach the court. The general aim is to break down the social, cultural and psychological barriers which inhibit people from availing of legal services and thus accessing justice.
In Ireland, there are two independent, community-based law centres, Northside Community Law & Mediation Centre and Ballymun Community Law Centre.
Specialist Law Centres are a response to the complexity of some of Ireland's current social issues. These centres focus on a specific area, such as disability or immigrant rights issues and provide legal services in those areas.
In Ireland, there are three independent, specialist law centres: the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Mercy Law Resource Centre and the Irish Traveller Movement Law Centre. A fourth, Disability Legal Resource, was in existence until 2005 when it was forced to close due to lack of funding.