“Having volunteered for Advocate over the years, I was keen to be involved with ELIPS and undertook one of the first clinic days, when it was set up in Bristol. This was something of a baptism of fire. I’ve now done a few clinic days, which is mostly offering people advice on how best to present their claim and sometimes representing them in their preliminary hearings. 

I enjoy volunteering for ELIPS but it’s a tough gig and the days are intense due to the time pressures. We need to digest the cases and identify the issues as quickly as possible. However, the people are often vulnerable and emotional. While this underscores the work’s importance, it can sometimes make it difficult to explain the process and ascertain the necessary information within the short space of time. In addition, the scheme aims to help as many people as possible.

The natural time constraints mean we must share the allocated resource. This means we cannot always assist the litigants as much as we would like or represent them in their hearings. Instead, we must focus on finding the best support we can within time slot. This involves guiding the litigants on how best to present their case in person. It is the most intense kind of work I do. 

Despite all of this, it’s incredibly rewarding. Not only does ELIPS assist those who need it the most, but the volunteers can help several people in a single day. The litigants often express their gratitude not just to the volunteers but to the justice system. For me, the latter is the single biggest take away. Confidence in the system is vital to perceptions of fairness.   

A particular advantage of volunteering with ELIPS is the structure of providing a designated day. It’s a defined length of time, with the option at the end to refer a case to Advocate or another organisation for extra assistance. From what I’ve seen of ELIPS in Bristol, it has been a tremendous success. The scheme has enlisted the support of many local lawyers and received considerable support from the Bristol judiciary. That collaboration is vital and reinforces what the litigants are experiencing, with the justice system striving to help support them as far as possible.  

There are numerous reasons to volunteer, but I do it because I believe we have an obligation to give back to society. Sometimes it can be tempting to see charity as about donating money.  While charities, of course, depend on financial support, there is nothing like giving our time. It offers real value but, more importantly, shows the users that we care about justice and fairness. 

While I would encourage all lawyers to become involved, it offers particular benefits to junior or pupil barristers.  Indeed, I’ve waxed lyrical and encouraged the pupil I am supervising this year to get involved with Advocate and ELIPS. Not only does it instill a charitable ethic early on, but it can provide valuable opportunities to gain exposure and experience. While usually I try and take on a few pro bono cases or sessions a year (through Advocate, ELIPS and direct access), it is fair to say I’ve let that slip this last year or so. The pandemic has been a busy time, but it’s important to remember that this is when people may need our support the most. Time for a kick up the backside. Just in time for Advocate’s 25 for 25 Pro Bono Challenge!”