Written by Mary Dobson

Head Of Fundraising And Communications at Advocate

Advocate is the Bar’s national charity that makes it possible for barristers to balance a dedicated practice with making a significant contribution to the community.  We match make members of the public who need help with barristers who are willing to donate their time and expertise in deserving cases for those who are unable to obtain legal aid and cannot afford to pay.

Who are we?

Many people struggling with family legal issues are unable to afford legal representation and do not qualify for legal aid. We are a free service that matches those in need of legal help who can’t afford representation or get legal aid with volunteer barristers who kindly donate their time and expertise.

Since we were founded by Lord Goldsmith in 1996, we have helped thousands of individuals and small organisations to get expert free legal help.

Our vision:

Our vision is to be able to match everyone needing legal help quickly and easily to the right expert barrister.

We can assist with:

  • Specialist legal advice, drafting and representation
  • Cases in all areas of law
  • Cases in all tribunals and courts in England and Wales

On average, we hear from 50 new people every week facing a legal problem alone. Each year, we receive more family cases than cases in any other area of law. Our applicants might be struggling to see their children, attempting to gain a custody order or going through a difficult separation.

Barristers can:

  • Give legal advice in a meeting or in writing
  • Draft documents such as skeleton arguments
  • Represent in any court or tribunal

Barristers cannot:

  • Prepare a case and paperwork for the court or tribunal
  • Lodge papers at the court or tribunal on your behalf
  • Provide administrative support
  • Write letters on another’s behalf

The Unit ensures that in each case the barrister providing assistance has the same expertise and experience as would be expected in a paying case. We may be able to help if:

  • An individual or organization cannot get legal aid, pay privately, or get legal help elsewhere
  • The matter involves the law of England and Wales
  • The case is appropriate for assistance on a pro bono basis
  • The help needed will take 3 days or less (exceptions may apply)
  • The case needs a barrister who can act if necessary without a solicitor

How to apply to the Unit for help:

  • All applications must be made through a referring agency such as a solicitor or advice agency (e.g. a Citizens Advice Bureau, a Legal Advice Clinic or Law Centre)
  • An application may also be referred by your MP
  • The application form is available on our website or we can send out hard copies on request
  • Once completed, the application form needs to be returned to us in hard copy along with copies of any case documents

The referrer

  • The referrer helps make the initial application to the Unit and can identify the supporting documents required
  • Can, if they wish, act as a point of contact throughout the process


  • If you can pay privately or are eligible for public funding (legal aid) for your case, we will not be able to help
  • We cannot help in cases unless we receive the completed application and all the relevant documents at least three weeks before the hearing or deadline, unless there are exceptional circumstances; i.e. your child would be taken into care.


Assistance cannot be guaranteed as we rely on the services of volunteer barristers.

We are not a frontline agency and do not have barristers in our office to give legal advice directly. We are an application-based service that focuses the Bar’s pro bono resources where they are most needed.

Case Study

Daniel is the father of three young children. He applied to the Bar Pro Bono Unit for legal assistance in seeking a residence order against his children’s unstable mother. The Unit was able to match Daniel with a volunteer barrister who represented him in court. The case was successful and the residence order was granted, offering Daniel and his children more stability and hope for the future. Daniel spoke about his experience with the Unit:

“I cannot thank the Bar Pro Bono Unit enough for the incredible help and support you provided for a desperate father. The barrister you supplied came into my world yesterday and completely changed the landscape of myself and my children’s future. Without her work and the work of yourselves, my life would be in a terrible state; instead I look forward to a future with my children.”



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