How to get legal assistance

THE NUJ can offer members a lot of help with legal problems - but it's easier for everyone if you know the right route to getting it. An essential thing to remember is: if you want the union's help, ask the union first.

If you are arrested or have an imminent police interview, call the 24-hour legal line: see www.londonfreelance.org/emergency for up-to-date numbers.

These numbers get you forwarded to a solicitor from Thompsons, a law firm with which the union has a contract.

Use these numbers only for such emergencies.

To ask for assistance with less-urgent matters - from disagreements over paid time off, to a summons to appear as a witness - contact the Freelance Office. (Members who are staff journalists should contact their Organiser at Head Office.) The office will take details of your problem, and can often help directly: otherwise they will present the case to the union's in-house solicitor and/or to Thompsons. Trying to contact either of these directly will only confuse matters.

The union can also offer - again via the Freelance Office - free advice sessions up to two hours on copyright matters, or a free half hour on anything else, competitive rates on house conveyancing, and more. See Applications for Legal Assistance on the main NUJ website and the link there to the formal legal policy (seeing which requires registration on the site).

NUJ legal assistance is normally available to people who have been members of the union in good standing for 13 weeks or more. (The union wants journalists to join because trade union membership is a good plan, not for them to treat it as a fire service!)

All legal assistance is given at the discretion of the union's National Executive (NEC). The NEC has the power, for example, in exceptional cases to decide to use a firm of solicitors that specialises in a particular field, such as suing police forces. But it can do this only if you ask it first. If you contact solicitors before you contact the union, you will cause yourself no end of hassle.

Also, following members' requests, the NUJ has negotiated very reasonable "professional indemnity" insurance. This covers you personally against risks such as libel suits, and gives the Freelance an excuse to use the word "champerty" - a prohibition on people or organisations that are not themselves being sued funding civil cases.

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