Advocate, the Bar’s Pro Bono charity, has committed to a permanent presence in Wales with the appointment of Advocate’s newest caseworker, Stephen Davies, who is now based on the Wales and Chester Circuit. Stephen explains his role, what he hopes to achieve with the Bar and other stakeholders in Wales, and how barristers and barristers’ chambers can engage – and why.
Advocate aims to become a truly national charity, to serve communities across all circuits and engage barristers whose practices are based mainly outside of London. To further this goal Advocate has significantly invested in the North, the Midlands, and Wales.
As the dedicated caseworker for Wales, my role is to promote the charity, engage with the Welsh Bar to support their pro bono work, and to give Advocate a real and tangible presence in Wales. I grew up in Wales, studied the Bar here and I am eager to give back to the community that has given much to me.
For those readers who might not have heard of Advocate before, we are the Bar’s pro bono charity and recently celebrated our 25th Anniversary; we operate on all Circuits within England and Wales and within all areas of law.
We were created by the Bar, and we are sustained by the Bar, not just financially. Dedicated barristers volunteer their time and skills to assist litigants in person who cannot afford a lawyer or access public funding.
We believe that fair and equal access to justice is the very heart of our society, and that the quality of one’s legal representation should not depend on the depth of your pockets, but the merits of your case.
During my first month at Advocate, I spoke at the Legal Wales Conference 2022, hosted in Llandudno, about the need for pro bono in Wales and reaffirming Advocate’s commitment to developing pro bono at the Welsh Bar. Advocate is also a founding member of the Wales Pro Bono Committee which is due to meet for the first time this month. I have networked with a number of referral agencies within Wales including the LGBTQ+ Clinic, Cardiff Speakeasy, Veterans Legal Link, and I endeavour to meet with many more.
My hope is that the more that Advocate demonstrates its presence on the Welsh Circuit, we will see a greater number of cases referred and placed with Welsh barristers looking to serve their communities.
Why should barristers in Wales engage in Pro Bono?
There are many good reasons why barristers should consider giving their time to pro bono work. Most are familiar with the selfless reasons: altruism, helping those who cannot help themselves, and the satisfaction of using specialised skills developed at the Bar for the public good. However, there are practical benefits to pro bono that are beneficial for practice development.
For those at the junior end of the Bar, pro bono exposes you to higher courts and to new areas of law. It can enhance your reputation and earn you a name in an area of law where you might want to develop your practice, which can lead to paid work in the future.
Pro bono cases can and do often get reported in the law reports and judges are often very gracious in their remarks to counsel who have assisted on pro bono cases before them.
It provides the opportunity for barristers to build relationships with solicitors and work on cases that you otherwise may not have the chance to.
Barristers are covered by our licence and do not need to secure further professional qualifications to assist on our cases.
For senior members of the Bar, those looking to apply for silk or perhaps transition to the judiciary, pro bono has much to offer.
Reviewing Advocate cases provides invaluable experience which has been helpful for judicial appointment applications, whilst pro bono cases have been widely used for silk applications.
There are opportunities to win industry awards for pro bono, benefiting you personally but also your chambers and its overall profile, and the opportunity for media coverage of cases that attract national attention.
Advocate also encourages clerks to get involved with pro bono and win industry awards for their commitment to access to justice and practice management.
Advocate has recently launched a guide with the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC) and the Legal Practice Management Association (LPMA) which explains how to incorporate pro bono as part of your chambers infrastructure.
Wales is in need for its barristers to get involved with the world of pro bono, now more than ever. The cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated issues already prevalent in relation to access to justice.
Changes to our laws, within Wales, made by our devolved Parliament means that Welsh law is developing down a different path to that of our neighbour. However, legal aid and regulations determining eligibility for the same is not an area devolved to the Senedd.
The development of Welsh law means that there are several emergent cases that will unavoidably turn on new points of law, statutory interpretation, and new legal arguments. I point to the incoming Renting Homes Wales Act 2016 as a prime example.
As our law develops, unfortunately, there will be people falling through the cracks in public funding. Those caught between the disparities within our law, with deserving cases, who are not eligible for legal aid and are currently not able to afford a lawyer, still need access to justice now.
Of course, pro bono work is always only an adjunct to, and not a substitute for, a proper system of publicly funded legal services. But sadly, until we see the day when the system receives sufficient funding , those people who fail to qualify for legal aid and do not have the means to afford to pay privately, still need help.