Tuesdays with SOAS Alumni - Catherine Robinson

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CATHERINE ROBINSON

Position: Immigration Barrister - One Pump Court

Degree: LLM, 2007-2008


How has your degree at SOAS benefitted you in your career as a barrister?

I studied part-time for an LLM at SOAS whilst I was working full-time as an immigration solicitor for a firm in South London (Fisher Meredith Solicitors). My LLM gave me an opportunity to study human rights law in more depth than I had done as an undergraduate (at Warwick University). It also gave me the chance to study subjects which I was really interested in - such as Justice, Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Post Conflict Societies and Comparative Constitutional Law. The LLM has helped my career as a barrister in terms of improving my knowledge of human rights law, developing my research skills and working full-time and studying part-time prepared me for the heavy workload!

What advice would you give students who are interested in becoming immigration barristers?

I would recommend that students try and get relevant work experience that could be - via mini pupillages, work experience with solicitors or NGOs, work as paralegals, administrative assistants or case-workers at firms doing immigration work. Alternatively, or additionally, volunteering with charities supporting individuals going through the asylum system or those in immigration detention can also be helpful to gain insight and experience - such as the SOAS Detainee Support Group or Bail for Immigration Detainees. It is important to try and find out as much about the sector as possible to make sure it is the area for you.

When I was studying for my undergraduate degree I volunteered at Coventry Refugee Centre. When I was at law school in Nottingham I volunteered with Refugee Action on an advocacy project and at a woman's drop-in centre. When I was a trainee solicitor (at a city law firm) I did a week's work experience with an organisation that provided legal advice to asylum seekers (the Immigration Advisory Service, which sadly no longer exists). Whilst I was studying for my LLM I was volunteering with UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group speaking at their asylum support meetings.

For me it is really important to continue to do work that is funded by legal aid notwithstanding the challenges that this poses (it can mean that I go to court on a judicial review for a permission hearing "at risk" which means that if I don't get granted permission I will not get paid for any of the work I have done on the case...) and so I would recommending thinking about getting involved with Young Legal Aid Lawyers - http://www.younglegalaidlawyers.org/

What aspect of your job do you find the most enjoyable?

I really enjoy working as an immigration barrister. The area is challenging and dynamic. It is amazing when you win a case and know that you have helped potentially transform someone's life. However, I do have to work a lot and you need stamina - it can take years to win a case!