My understanding of the value of pro bono legal work has developed in light of my work for the Freedom Law Clinic (FLC) in relation to social justice, personal enrichment, and professional aspirations.
When I was asked last year what pro bono is and why it is important in my view, I answered that it is ‘a means to provide assistance to those in need, which is a motivation driving many students to engage with legal studies in the first place, myself included. It is also an opportunity to experience the practical realities of a solicitor/barrister to confirm that as students, we have chosen the right career path.’
My view has not fundamentally changed, but developed even further.
I have witnessed the practical impact lawyers have on their clients’ lives. Following the occurrence of a series of dreadful events, my client, who is serving a prison term, has been able to transfer to another facility, thanks to the persistence of his solicitor in the face of administrative obstacles. This has improved his mental health and alleviated the harshness of detention for him. His suicidal ideas even stopped.
Access to justice and representation is currently more essential than ever, however it is not only crucial during trial ; lawyers make a difference at every step of the way. I realised that when clients lose, lawyers continue to put their expertise to use to protect their interests. In the criminal area, ‘interests’ can, and often does, mean ‘lives.’ I value pro bono as a way to ensure that convicted defendants always have someone protecting their rights, even without the financial means.
My pro bono project included searching for any potential fresh evidence to constitute possible grounds for appeal. At the time, I reflected in my diary that ‘It is satisfying, fulfilling, and rewarding, to use the legal knowledge I have carefully fostered the last three years to serve the purpose which drove me to enrol in a legal course, even more than I had envisaged.’
This opportunity has also shown me that the Criminal Bar, which was originally my vocation, was not tenable for me. The workload exceeded what I could manage on my own. I improved my time and energy management skills, but it was still not feasible without long hours at night. While I always managed to do my part, notably with the support of my group, I knew it would not be tenable for a lifetime, as my health condition requires me to rest sufficiently. Consequently, I undertook two mini-pupillages in other areas of practice of the Civil Bar, which fit me better.
While I had always considered pro bono as ‘a practical test for students to ensure they were on the right track with their aspirations’, I never thought it would actually affect my own aspirations. My experience at the FLC was the first step to realise I was mistakenly pursuing a career which was not for me. That is why an opportunity to get involved in pro bono is fundamental before engaging further with legal practice.