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Pro Bono Ambassador and Advocate panel member, Siân Smith, talks to us about her pro bono career in family law

 

To celebrate Volunteers' Week, we spoke to some of our fantastic Pro Bono Ambassadors about what drives them to do pro bono work. These are the barristers who not only dedicate a generous amount of time and expertise to fighting access to justice but encourage others in their chambers to do the same. We couldn't do the work we do without our volunteers - the whole Advocate team is incredibly grateful for their support.

Our ambassadors take us through their experience of pro bono throughout their career, from their very first case to their most memorable, as well as lessons they have learned and advice for any lawyers out there who are sat on the pro bono fence. Read on to see what Siân Smith has to say

 

 

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

 

Around two years into practice

 

Why did you decide to undertake pro bono work?

 

I am a family practitioner and it has always been the case, even before the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, that there are vulnerable individuals who need legal representation but simply cannot afford it. 

To many people the courts can seem an intimidating and alien environment, the law can appear confusing and inaccessible.  They need help to access justice; I can help. It’s as simple as that really.

 

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

 

Without a doubt, my most memorable case is also my most recent case.  Not least because I was involved for nearly four years. I represented a father engaged in a very long-running and complex private law dispute.  It would be impossible to do the case justice by trying to summarise it here.  I represented my client at two lengthy final hearings and two appeals to the Court of Appeal 

Private law children proceedings can be complex and protracted and it can be very difficult for litigants in person to put their case effectively without a lawyer.  I was able to assist my client in court to ensure that he was not disadvantaged by a lack of legal representation. 

 

What effect did pro bono work have on your career?

 

Undertaking pro bono work gave me my first opportunity to appear in the Court of Appeal which was a daunting and exhilarating experience.  It has given me greater confidence in undertaking appellate work for which I am very grateful.

 

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

 

I think that the most rewarding thing about doing pro bono work is knowing that you are alleviating the heavy burden of acting as a litigant in person.  Family proceedings by their nature always involve emotional issues that can make it difficult for clients to know what their best points are, or to identify the more important aspects of the evidence. 

Often they do not know where to start when faced with presenting their case in court.  By simply stepping into the process we can help clients to better understand their case and the court’s approach which can hugely reduce their apprehension about the proceedings.  Committing to representing a client in court can have a significant and positive impact on their wellbeing as well as on the case outcome.

 

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

In a Family Justice System that is increasingly under pressure it is becoming more and more difficult to identify time in which to undertake pro bono work. However, just giving a small amount of time can make a huge difference in someone’s life. If you are just starting out, pro bono work can help you gain experience in areas of work that you are interested in or, like me, let you appear in a higher court. I have only benefitted personally and professionally from the pro bono work that I have done and I would highly recommend taking a look at the pro bono case list each week. You might be surprised at the difference that you can make.

 

A quarter of the Bar of England and Wales are signed up to our panel of volunteers. Are you? To join the panel, download the registration form here, and soon, you'll be able to say "I Do Pro Bono" too! 

 

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