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4 March 2024 | Firm News | Article by Lisa Morgan

Former Pro Bono Scheme students explain their Hugh James career journey from student to mentor

Hundreds of students have taken part in the Hugh James Pro Bono Scheme over the 17 years it has been running within the Nursing Case department.

As this year’s six-week placement is well underway, having welcomed the newest cohort of students (and the largest group to date) last month, we took the time to speak to some more of the former students who are now part of Hugh James having secured a role following the scheme.

Katie Morgan, Associate Solicitor within the Nursing Care Department, took part in the scheme in her second and third years of university from 2009 to 2011. She then went on to supervise the work undertaken by the students on the scheme as a Senior Case Manager in 2015 and currently runs the scheme with Lisa Morgan, as a qualified solicitor, since 2020.

During her time as a student, the scheme introduced Katie to the area of continuing healthcare, something she had no idea existed or that you could specialise in as a solicitor beforehand. After a short time away completing her training contract and gaining experience in other areas of law, she returned to the Nursing Care Department at Hugh James as a newly qualified solicitor in 2018 and hasn’t looked back.

One thing Katie remembers most from her time as a student on the scheme is how it would take the group one or two months to review a set of records. Now, with the benefit of experience, it will usually take one or two hours. She said:

“I also remember having a new client come into the pro bono office to interview which was great experience and helped cement my decision to go into an area of law where I would get a high level of client interaction. The scheme was also my first experience of drafting advice letters to client, and letters of appeal, and so laid a good foundation for the work that I do to this very day.”

“I think that initial interview with a new client taught me the importance of compassion from a very early stage in my legal career. How, whilst it is important to get the information and instructions that you need from clients, you have to balance that with being empathetic when practising in an area of law which is often very emotive for clients. It is not just a case of firing off a list of questions to get answers but asking those questions in a way that is sensitive and helps you to build a professional relationship with the client from the outset.”

The scheme has evolved a lot since Katie’s time as a student. Case work is no longer an option but, instead, they take the students through each stage of the continuing healthcare claims process, culminating in a mock Independent Review Panel hearing. It is challenging, but the students work together in groups, and the team are always on hand to answer any queries that may arise.

So, what advice would Katie give this year’s intake of students on what to expect?

“The scheme really is a fantastic opportunity for the students to, not only get to know an area of law they probably will have not had any exposure to before, but to also develop their skills in terms of writing to clients, reviewing medical records and advocacy. It’s a privilege for me to have come full-circle and to be able to give back to the scheme that essentially set my legal career in motion.”

More recently, taking part in the scheme ten years later, another student who now works at Hugh James is Briony Powell, who was part of the scheme in 2021 with a desire to gain legal experience and an insight into Hugh James as a firm.

Now a paralegal in the Commercial Property team, Briony starts her training contract with the firm next year and now has the responsibility of handling files and mentoring other paralegals joining the team. During her time on the scheme, Briony was given the opportunity to become a team leader for the mock independent review. The skills she learned here of organising people, creating good team morale and becoming an overseer of the workload have transitioned perfectly into her current role within the firm. She said:

“Whilst taking part in the scheme, I remember the comradery that was created amongst the group of future solicitors that had been gathered together to learn and progress our skills, but also our relationships, with both each other and Hugh James. We were given research and questions to do in our own time to further develop our understanding and these research skills still continue to be relied upon in any legal work I do.”

“My advice to any future Pro Bono Scheme student is to make sure you take full advantage of the scheme and grasp any opportunity that becomes available to you that can further your skills. Make a positive impression and this could be the start of a long-lasting relationship with Hugh James.”

Both Katie and Briony’s experiences show how the Pro Bono Scheme has continued to encourage students to develop their skills after all these years and sets them up for a career in law perfectly.

We’ll hear from more alumni from the scheme and look forward to hearing from the students currently taking part this year and what they have learned as they could also be future colleagues of ours here at Hugh James.

Pro Bono Scheme

If you’re interested in taking part in the Pro Bono scheme, Cardiff Law School usually publishes its schemes in the autumn and students can apply directly through the University. Read more about the scheme here and find out how the students who took part last year found the placement.

Author bio

Lisa Morgan is a Partner and Head of the Nursing Care department. She is regarded as an experienced and specialist solicitor leading in the niche area of continuing healthcare.

She has been instrumental in developing a niche legal department in Hugh James, which comprises of 40 fee earners who solely act for the elderly and families in recovering wrongly paid nursing fees.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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