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Isabela Maculan interviews Cat Allan



Cat Allan is one of two longest-standing supervising solicitors at BPP Legal Advice Clinic. Cat has been with us for approximately 8 years now, since she was only 2 or 3 years qualified, and she has seen the clinic go through different phases including Covid. Now a solicitor specialised in care proceedings at Goodman Ray, Cat had an interesting journey to law after completing a degree in History and Politics. In a further impressive addition to her private work and her volunteering at the BPP Family Clinic, Cat is also a duty solicitor at the Central and East London family courts, assisting individuals who attend hearings without representation, and a volunteer at the Central Family Court’s Citizens Advise Bureau.

Journey into Law

Cat studied History and Politics as her first undergraduate degree. Upon graduating, she found a job in IT, which was well paid and allowed her to save for her future career move. Cat told me that she first saw law only as a hobby and something that she thought would be interesting to study. Little did she know that a few years down the line she would be a Legal 500 Rising Star and Senior Associate at Goodman Ray. Instead of simply taking the conversion course, Cat undertook a four year law degree at night school, while still working in IT. It was thanks to her friends’ encouragement, realising how much she enjoyed legal studies, that she decided to pursue law as a career. After her law degree, her next step into becoming a fully qualified solicitor was then to complete her training at a small family and criminal law practice.

Cat’s Legal Career

From speaking to Cat, her passion seems to be making a difference in people’s lives and helping others. It seems that she found her place in the legal world as a public children solicitor, but, before that, she considered becoming a barrister. Cat knew she did not want an office job from her experience with IT, and, although she liked advocacy and still does some advocacy today as part of her work in children law, she did not like it as much as case work. Like many of us when we first come into law, Cat first thought she wanted to work in the criminal law field. Cat even did a seat on criminal as part of her training contract, but she concluded that attending the police station in the early hours of the morning was not for her. She thought perhaps family law would be more of a 9-5, which she came to find out it is not, but she realised she really liked care cases and there is indeed a lot of crossover with criminal law.

Most of Cat’s cases come to her by referral, which says a lot about the high regard in which her work is held, and she is often instructed by guardians to act on behalf of children. According to her, when you act for the child, you may be running a different case than when acting for the parents. There is no right or wrong, cases are not black and white, and the nuance means that you can look at cases from different angles.

Although, as Cat kindly reminded me, confidentiality means that there are not many details she can share about her cases, she did tell me that when care cases are reported it is not because of the interesting facts themselves but because of new applications of law / technical aspects, such as the home office refusing to give evidence. Cat also told me that for some time there were many care cases under the umbrella of radicalisation where she had a reported judgment. For aspiring lawyers, I would recommend checking out her case of Re C (A Child) (No 2) (Application for Public Interest Immunity) [2017] EWHC 692 (Fam). In this case, Pauffley J considered the Secretary of State for the Home Department’s delayed application for public interest immunity and recommended that mechanisms should be put in place within the Government Legal Department to avoid delay in the future.

Cat’s Reflections on being a Supervising Solicitor at the BPP Family Clinic

As a supervising solicitor at the Family Clinic for over 8 years, Cat has seen a lot of change. Interestingly, she did not think Covid impacted the clinic very much. The students’ engagement has varied over the last few years, but Cat did not think the transition to remote appointments had a significant impact on it. When she first joined the clinic, appointments were in person and she had to come in 30 minutes early to speak to the students. Usually, they would have done their research and come up with good questions. For some time though, she noticed students had not been guided to do pre-research, and she was having to interject a lot more. More recently, she told me, the students knew everything. Occasionally, they get a bit lost with terminology, but their questions are excellent. Cat told me that if there is a proper framework, it does not matter if appointments are done in person or remotely, they will work.

In fact, Cat said that she finds clients more engaged on video. In her private practice, she can run her cases mostly remotely now and, when dealing with parents, they often prefer not to go into the office. She also said that the flexibility of remote appointments has allowed her to run cases more efficiently, and means she has managed to continue supervising with the family clinic while simultaneously managing a double case load and much longer hours since Covid.

I asked Cat what she thought was the most important thing about the family clinic, both from the perspective of the students and from her perspective as a supervisor. For students, Cat told me that the most important thing is the chance to get experience in practice. Textbooks are very different from meeting clients and the practice students get at the clinic is real. As for supervisors, she said that the key to being a trainer is that you have to be available, and so she is always happy for students to reach out to her if they are going down an unhelpful path or reach a point where they cannot progress. If you do not share your knowledge, people will not learn. And the more you share, the better the future lawyers will be.

Cat’s Advice for aspiring and new lawyers

Finally, I asked Cat what skills she thinks are key for someone in the profession, and particularly in her area of expertise. Cat said that it is important to be able to compartmentalise and really listen to clients, be that professional clients, such as guardians, or lay parents. She also told me it is important to be flexible as things change in the split of a second, but one must also be able to stick to a plan when needed. In other words, one should be able to roll with the changes in a way that will be productive.

It was a huge pleasure to interview Cat for this piece and get to know her better. Being the longest standing student director at the family clinic, it felt odd that we had never crossed paths as student adviser / supervising solicitor before. I would certainly recommend all students to take the chance to learn from Cat. We are very lucky to have her and I hope she will stick around for another 8 (or more) years.