I heard about the School Exclusion Project last year during my Law studies and many of my friends were representatives on the project. I was impressed hearing about the autonomy given to the reps and the ability for them to pretty much take on a case themselves.
This is something I wanted to have a go at. I felt pretty confident around the law as I have studied and volunteered in law for five years, but my volunteering had all been behind the scenes and I really wanted to have a go at front-line work. This was especially important to me as I also have a severe impairment, cerebral palsy, which affects my movements and speech.
My personal circumstances and academic interests have led me to have a very sound understanding of the Equality Act and disability so I thought that I would have cases where my legal knowledge would be useful.
I have been very grateful to have had two cases so far. Funnily enough, neither of them really revolved around disability and are testing me on brand new areas.
However, I can also say that after studying very dry academic law for many years, I had a warped view of what a lawyer does, thinking it was entirely forming very sophisticated legal arguments and knowing the law well. However, when I do have to form complicated arguments, it’s fantastic to be able to have very experienced barristers from Matrix give me feedback on my work. This is invaluable.
Yes, this is important, but I have found that client handling and ascertaining what actually happened a much more crucial part of a good representative. Nowhere is this taught on the usual academic law courses and has been a fantastically steep learning curve for me.
A lecturer once said to me, “Knowing your facts is much more crucial than knowing your law.” This made little sense in a seminar a week before a law exam, but I can now say that she is right.
There is a story behind every case and it is a fascinating privilege to get to know how interesting the cases are. While it is our job to focus on complex law and arguments to help the student be reinstated, it is very hard not to see an extremely sad set of facts underlying the case.