In the first of a summer series of blog posts our recent graduates share how their understanding of the value of pro bono legal work has developed in light of their participation in the Open Justice activities of the past year. The first blog is by Swati Koetcha.
I studied nuisance in the second year of my LLB and found applying the technical aspects of the tort of nuisance challenging but interesting. So, when our firm was allocated an Open Justice Clinic case involving nuisance, I felt slightly smug – it’s an area we were familiar with, and it felt like we almost had a ‘leg up’. Little did I know!
The abstract concepts of nuisance and the realities of the nuisance being experienced by our client were radically different. This was not a case in a law report – long finished and decided with the dust firmly settled – this was a person experiencing the challenging realities of a nuisance on their doorstep.
The interview shed more light on the situation. It increased my conviction that the issue was already causing our client considerable distress and would only worsen as the situation developed. I was left imagining how helpless I would feel if the tables were turned, and my life was consumed with daily disturbances that I could neither control nor predict. I couldn’t detach myself; my journal entry after the client interview reflects this: ‘I feel compelled to help…’ (Extract 1).
The nuisance had been thrust upon our client. They had pursued some channels available to address the nuisance, without any real success; the small concessions made by the other party did little to improve the quality of life of those affected. Poring over the pages of documents submitted by the client developed my critical analysis and evaluation skills and illustrated the extent of the issue. The client’s situation was a complex collision of facts and law, which made deciphering the steps to take and therefore, pursuing a complaint complicated. Looking through the actions already taken, and the passionate voices of the impacted community demonstrated very clearly what was missing – a clear understanding of the organisations which can help, the legislation which applied, and the systematic approach needed to address the concerns. This was a challenging task for our team, and our research and problem-solving skills were tested.
However, this is where our pro bono work shone – we broke down what the client needed to do and when these things needed to be done. We also advised on the actions to take if and when escalation was required. Our pro bono service empowered our client with the information needed to pursue the nuisance complaint. Our case demonstrates that pro bono plays a crucial role in increasing social justice by facilitating access to justice for those who would otherwise be unable to enforce their rights.
This case gave me a deeper understanding of how the legal profession can impact social justice by providing pro bono services. By providing pro bono services, the legal profession does more than pursue cases on behalf of clients until a conclusion is reached. Social justice also requires that those needing guidance to pursue their claims against injustice are empowered to do so, and our pro bono case serves as a prime example of this in practice. This is demonstrated in my journal reflection that ‘the avenues to address the issue exist - but they must be followed systematically - part of the issue is not knowing how the system works…’ (Extract 2).
We may never know the outcome of our case, or we may come across it in law reports in years to come; either way, there is a great personal and professional satisfaction which has come from working with a group of like-minded students to aid our client and promote social justice, in a matter which to this day, causes such personal distress.
Kotecha, S. (2023) ‘Extract 1’, originally written 6 March 2023.
Kotecha, S. (2023) ‘Extract 2’, originally written 21 March 2023.
image by © Robert Harding