Colm Nugent, Hardwicke

Colm Nugent tells us about his experiences with pro bono, from his first pro bono case to his most memorable, as well as the most important lessons he has learnt.

Colm Nugent final

At what stage in your career did you take on your first pro bono case?

My first pro-bono case was within my first few years of practice so – roughly twenty years ago.  It was – as I recall – a fairly hopeless Employment Tribunal claim. I had experience of pro bono work with the Free Representation Unit, even when I was in Bar School.  I felt more ‘exposed’ than anything because I wasn’t there via a solicitor and all the client interaction as direct rather than via an intermediately.  My first Court of Appeal pro bono case was nerve-racking but the court plainly welcome pro bono assistance and couldn’t have been nicer.

Why did you decide to undertake pro bono work?

As lawyers and barristers are in a unique position to help others to have a voice and we should be prepared to use our skills and status to do just that.

What was the most memorable case you worked on, and what did you do?

I was working with a client who had been desperately trying for 10 years to overturn a Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority decision. I was matched with him through Advocate, and together we finally managed to get his money - over £100,000.  We had to fight every step of the way and eventually, we did it.  The struggle put him in hospital though.

What effect did pro bono work have on your career?

Pro bono work gave a me a much greater insight into the amount of preparatory work goes into a case by solicitors, before I normally ever see it. This really helps when arguing about costs in a cost and case management conference – and understanding client priorities in conferences. 

It’s brought me before Tribunals and panels I probably would never have experienced otherwise and as a consequence gave me the confidence that comes with a wider set of advocacy skills.

What is the most rewarding thing about doing pro bono work?

The sense of achievement. 

What advice would you give to any barrister unsure about whether to start doing pro bono work?

Try to imagine if you didn't have a voice, if you didn't have the skills and abilities to argue your corner or fight for what you thought was right.

Those are the people who need us to be their voice.

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