Shyam's back!

Shyam Popat, Head of Casework

"Having left Advocate 4 years ago as a caseworker I am delighted to now return to the organisation as Joint Chief Operating Officer and Head of Casework. Since leaving Advocate I have been working at South West London Law Centres, primarily dealing with the pro bono services that are offered to supplement legal aid. The Law Centre assists over 8,000 clients and receives over 60,000 calls for assistance each year. The free clinics turn away nearly one in every three clients that seeks free advice. The service is stretched with the vulnerability of clients ever increasing.

These same challenges face Advocate. The services of Advocate are needed by some of the most vulnerable in our society. Applications continue to increase as does the desperation of those facing the court system alone. It is wonderful to find the willingness of the profession to help those in need continues unabated, despite the many pressures the Bar faces.

Having been at a Law Centre for the past few years I have learnt so much about the advice sector and how pro bono agencies must develop and adapt to meet changing needs. I have come back to Advocate determined to ensure equality of arms for litigants in person.

Naturally, the increase in litigants in person has created additional pressures on the judiciary. Over the past few years in response, a number of duty schemes have been set up by the Bar to provide on the day assistance for litigants in person, such as that established by the Chancery Bar Association. Coupled with the introduction of these new schemes, there has also been increased collaboration between pro bono organisations.

However, with this increasing burden we need to mindful that of the criticism from some that pro bono lets the government off the hook and that, in an ideal world, the government should pay for those who cannot afford legal help. This is not going to happen in the near future. All the while people are losing their homes, children and jobs, going it alone in the intimidating legal system. It is therefore imperative that we ensure we are realistic in the fact that pro bono resources are finite. They have to be used carefully and that is why we put considerable effort into ensuring that the Bar’s capabilities are directed to the most deserving cases.

As one applicant so vividly put it, receiving help from Advocate "is akin to being cornered on the playground by the school bully and having an older brother (metaphorically speaking of course) arrive to stand by you."

I look forward to working with the Bar and understanding better how Advocate can leverage the incredible support the Bar offers to those that need it."