As part of the employability service provided at my university, they also offer the chance for students to get involved in Pro bono work which they help set up. This term I decided I was going to get involved, and from the list I signed up to the Lambert County court runner scheme.
Shortly after signing up I received an email of a list of dates and times in which I could prick, from, so I chose Tuesday the 23rd and got an email back with confirmation along with the briefing of what I would be doing on the morning.
It is fair to say that I was quite worried due to the amount that was put on the list, as well as the actual tasks. All the way from filling out forms, liaising with the court clerk, duty solicitor and other bodies, as well as clients themselves. However, I put this out of my mind, it was out of my comfort zone, but I will most likely be put in situations such as this throughout my life so I had to get over that.
So on the Tuesday I got sited up and arrived so early on the court day that the court wasn’t even open yet… great! So, I went and say in a local park for a while waiting for the court to open.
When I entered, after a short wait, I met the Duty solicitor that I would be assisting on that day. It is fair to say that she calmed my nerves a lot, and told me what I had to do, which basically was approaching potential clients as they entered the waiting room and ask them if they needed to see a duty solicitor before they were heard in court.
I was in court room 3 which was hearing clients who were in arrears in the Southwark and Lambeth area.
After I was briefed, I went back out into the waiting room and began to approach everyone in the waiting room, which was surprisingly unsuccessful. After making a fool of myself and asking many solicitors and barristers if they needed to see the duty solicitor, I finally started to find some potential clients. It was very unusual as throughout the whole morning, there was only 1 person who wanted to see the DS, and the others had their own representation. Although this was not great as I did not get to see a lot of cases, it meant the one case that I did see I could observe throughout its entirety and gain a proper insight into the entire case, rather than observing parts of many different cases.
This lady was at a total of nearly £6,000 in arrears which began 18 months ago, was a victim of domestic violence, had a young child she was bringing up alone, therefore there were many factors that anyone would struggle not to be sympathetic towards. Many details were very hard to hear, but equally she had no evidence with her to support a lot of this.
The negotiation that I observed between the duty solicitor and the housing association representative was very insightful. It was on the one hand very formal, no emotions were getting in the way of either party, and no party was trying to be extremely unreasonable to the other party. It was clear that both parties wanted to come to an agreement, and it almost seemed like they did. And on the other hand, it was fairly informal also, using their phones as calculators, and almost joking with each other in working out the repayment figures. Which I think was nice for the lady being represented who was present throughout this as it was nerve calming, and a more humane spin was put on the situation.
They came to a fair ‘agreement’ that the lady would repay the money over a 6-year period. The representative of the housing agency had to make sure that this was acceptable for the housing agency before it was fully agreed. After being on the phone a lengthy while, the representative informed us that they would not accept the agreement and it would be up to the judge to decide the appropriate solution, meaning they would be seeking a possession order.
It all moved very quickly from this and it must have been no more than 5 minutes later we were all in the court room and I was observing. The hearing seemed to go on for longer than most other cases who seemed to be in and out in 10 minutes. Due to the nature of the hearing it was rather informal compared to the stereotypical criminal trials that everyone thinks what going to court is like. This was insightful as I got more of an idea about the trial procedure for housing issues.
In the end, the judge did grant a possession order, which was quite distressing for the client. However, the duty solicitor explained to me afterwards that this was not her first time in court and the odds were stacked against her this time. So this outcome was expected, however it was hoped that the judge would give a little more time, but this was not the case.
Overall it was a very interesting and helpful experience. It is not an area of law I would particularly like to get into, but it was very interesting and I feel like I took a lot away from shadowing the duty solicitor and actually getting involved with the few tasks I had. It showed me that becoming a solicitor is attainable, and that with the correct education and training I could be in the shoes of the DS one day in the future.