The Free Representation Unit (FRU) is a charity that provides legal representation in employment and social security tribunals for people who cannot afford lawyers.
Becoming a volunteer is reasonably straightforward; attend (and pay for) a training day, take a short test, spend some time observing a tribunal and have an office induction. I chose to train as an employment representative, mostly because I was busy on the weekend of the social security training day. Having just got top marks for an employment law course as part of my LLB I thought I would sail through the FRU’s test. Which I guess is exactly why I failed it first time round.
I passed the test on the second attempt in January 2014 and took my first case on in March. Running a case is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling – but it has confirmed to me how much I enjoy advocacy and given me invaluable insight into the law in practice.
My first case, an unfair dismissal claim against a multinational company, was heard in June. My client had been dismissed for gross misconduct on the basis that she had failed to report her suspicions that a colleague was taking drugs. The respondent’s solicitor made a number of cost threats but my client held her nerve and refused to be put off. I’m not sure I would have been so brave. Incredibly, we won, and the respondent was ordered to pay substantial compensation.
Perhaps the best part of the experience for me was the look of vindication on my client’s face when the judge said that she was clearly a conscientious and hardworking employee, who should not have been treated the way she had.
My second case was more difficult. The respondent was represented by a barrister as well as a solicitor. And nearly all the facts in the case were in dispute – it was my client’s word against three other people. It was a two-day hearing and by lunchtime on the first day I was convinced we had lost. But we won, and came to a favourable settlement on compensation too.
I am now preparing my third case and am still as terrified as I was at the start. But slowly I am becoming a more competent advocate. And I have the FRU to thank for that.
Amy Woolfson graduated from the Open University with a first-class LLB in October 2013. She is planning to train for the Bar. Read all her articles for Lawyer 2B.