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

The very first case that I did “on my feet at the start of my second six months of pupillage was a pro bono private children law case where I acted for fathercalled Greg*. It was a case of intractable hostility where Greg’s son had ended up completed alienated from him as a result of the mother’s behaviour. Over the years, Greg had given up hope of ever having a relationship with his son. However, later the father of the mother’s younger son issued Children Act proceedings for his son to move to live with him on the basis of the mother’s hostility and alienating behaviour. Greg gave evidence in the fact-finding hearing in respect of the mother’s younger son and specifically as to how the mother’s hostility had alienated his son from himGreg’s story had a real impact on the solicitor and barrister acting for the father of the younger child and offered him pro bono representation. I took it over mid-way through the proceedings. It took some time to get to a final hearing but eventually an order was made which provided that Greg and his son would meet up once a week after school for an hour or two.  

Why did you decide to undertake pro bono work? 

I undertake pro bono work because I believe that it is important to give a proportion of my time to supporting people in need of advice and practical guidance but who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. There has been a virtual obliteration of legal aid in family cases since 2012. This has left many vulnerable people trying to navigate the family justice system without advice or representation. Courts can be terrifying to people who are not legally trained and do not understand procedure. This situation is an affront to due processaccess to justice and disproportionately affects children and the financially weaker party (most often women). The current system is failing people and needs to be remedied. In the interim, organisations like Advocate provide a wonderful opportunity to barristers to support people most in need of it on a pro bono basis. On a personal level, I have found the pro bono work that I have done interesting and rewarding. 

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

The most memorable pro bono case was memorable not only on the facts and outcome but also because the client brought packets of Pickled Onion Monster Munch to every hearing knowing they are my favourite crisps.  

In terms of the facts, I represented a father in a second set of Children Act proceedings. At the conclusion of the first set of proceedings (which neither Advocate nor I were involved in) no order for contact had been made as the father’s immigration status was insecure. The father had re-instated the proceedings as soon as his immigration status was regularised but that had taken several years. At this point, he was desperate to spend time with his only son who the mother at no time had allowed him to see post-separation. After the father had issued the new proceedings, the mother raised very serious allegations of domestic abuse against him which had not been raised previously. I acted for him in the fact-finding hearing where no findings were made against him. Following the fact-finding hearing there was a Cafcass Child Contact Intervention after which tentative contact resumed 

What effect does pro bono work have on your career? 

Undertaking pro bono work with Advocate provides me with opportunities to take on interesting and rewarding cases that stretch me professionally in new and important ways. This helps develop my practice and sharpens my skills and expertise both inside and outside of the courtroom. Pro bono work provides a great balance to the work that I do day-to-day and is even better now that scanned bundles of papers can be sent out by Advocate! 

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

The most rewarding thing, apart from the odd packet of Monster Munch, is the difference that you can make to people’s lives. This is very often the case in family law and where someone, but for pro bono advice and support, might not have been able to achieve a fair outcome in their case it is hugely satisfying. 

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

Be realistic about the time that you have and that you can dedicate to a pro bono case. Like direct access work, these cases can be relatively time-consuming. When you take on a case, check what work you are being asked to undertake and ensure that is manageable for you. Advocate will instruct you afresh for each stage of the proceedings so if you only have capacity to undertake once segment of the overall proceedings that is still likely to make a significant difference to the individual involvedGet involved – Advocate are brilliant to work with, it’s very fulfilling and very occasionally, you might just be gifted your favourite snack!