Derek Spitz, One Essex Court

Pro Bono Ambassador and Advocate panel member, Derek Spitz, talks to us about how pro bono work has benefited his career.

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 Derek Spitz has to say.

Derek Spitz

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

At the outset, during pupillage.

Why did you decide to undertake pro bono work?

Because it is a good thing to do and it is good for career development and personal growth.

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

On a Friday afternoon, towards the end of my pupillage, Chambers received a pro bono request which they were very keen to accept.  It required an appearance on fairly short notice.  In talking it through with the clerks and my pupil supervisor, it gradually dawned on me that the case involved a hearing in the Court of Appeal! 

It involved acting for a couple who had fallen into arrears on a vehicle purchased on credit and insolvency was looming.  My pupil supervisor encouraged me to take it on, pointing out that at least one Judge in the Court of Appeal had seen enough in the judgment to give permission to appeal.  I accepted the case with some trepidation, spent a lot of time preparing and was successful in the appeal.  The Court was very appreciative that the litigants had received effective representation and the litigants themselves were hugely relieved and wrote a very kind note of thanks afterwards.  The clerks joked with me that having had some success in the Court of Appeal, my career could only go downhill from there...

What effect did pro bono work have on your career?

Pro bono work has offered opportunities for oral advocacy that are not always easy to come by, it has enabled me to appear before different judges, and to expand the areas of expertise in which I practice. It has allowed me to balance my commercial practice with other kinds of interesting cases.

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

The personal element of pro bono work is most rewarding.  There is enormous satisfaction in being able to make a positive impact on the circumstances individuals face in their lives and to do it without fuss or fanfare.

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

Start early. The advocacy experience is invaluable. Your clients will benefit immensely.  It contributes to a virtuous circle!

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!