When Valeriia Lada first arrived in London for her internship at Church Court chambers, it was the first time she’d set foot in the UK. It was a confusing experience, at times: “Every day of my first week I was surprised by something: the direction of traffic, plug sockets, fearless foxes on the streets, three-story houses rather than high-rise buildings, etc. But after I was here for a month, I’d already got used to everything surrounding me.”

The lawyer – an advocate back in her native Ukraine – found herself in Holborn as a result of a scheme spearheaded by the Bar Council Young Barristers' Committee Chair, Michael Polak. Wanting to help Ukrainian lawyers affected by the ongoing conflict, Michael joined forces with the Ukrainian National Bar Association to offer a six-week internship at his chambers, Church Court. 56 lawyers applied, three were shortlisted and one was chosen: Valeriia.

With a background in international dispute resolution and arbitration, Valeriia has been a lawyer at Kyiv-based top law firm LCF Law Group for the past four years. She was lucky, she says, that her firm continued despite the Russian invasion; and she remained in Kyiv until the start of her internship in August. It was a terrifying period: “From February until the beginning of April, Russian troops were near Kyiv; we often had missile attacks.” Valeriia describes a period of extreme uncertainty as people decided whether or not to leave the capital: “What will happen in the future? What should we do?” She talks of food shortages at the supermarkets, soldiers in the near-empty streets, the sounds of explosions that seemed to get closer. The majority of courts in March suspended their operations, and dealt exclusively with some urgent criminal matters. Most of her projects at work were also put on hold; instead, people from her firm volunteered for the Hotline set up for Ukrainians needing legal assistance, joined the Territorial Defense Forces and got involved in different forms of humanitarian action.

It's against this backdrop that Valeriia applied for the internship: “One day I was scrolling through Facebook and saw an announcement from the Ukrainian National Bar Association about the internship,” Valeriia tells me. “I was excited to apply for it. The requirements were to send my CV, a motivational letter and some other documents related to my status as a qualified lawyer.” To ensure that she had a place to stay while in London, she also applied for the Bar Council Homes for Ukraine scheme. Through this, she was matched with Serjeant’s Inn’s Katie Gallop KC, who Valeriia lived with for the duration of her internship.

One of the main aspects of her role has been helping barristers at Church Court with research for a variety of complex cases. Her legal perspective has been invaluable; Michael Polak tells me that it was “fantastic” to have Valeriia’s expertise. “Not only did it give us the chance to help a young Ukrainian lawyer when that country is bravely fighting for its existence against the Russian invasion, but it also brought a lot to Chambers in the form of a different legal perspective on the cases we were dealing with and some real assistance in essential background research in a number of different areas.” His colleague Islam Khan agrees: “her research covered every single point of the company fraud area on which I am currently working to a very high quality,” with fellow Church Court barrister Colin Witcher adding that she “assisted in a complex cross-jurisdictional review of a comparative point of law, providing an exceptionally high-quality piece of work.”

In addition to this work in chambers, Valeriia has also had to chance to go with colleagues to the Magistrates’ courts, Crown Courts and the High Court. Court sittings have been a highlight for her: “I’ve been really thrilled to see first-hand how English court proceedings are conducted. The UK is famous for its judicial system,” she says. “This internship has enriched me in a way I can’t put into words. It’s had an influence on me in many ways: my career, my cultural perspective. I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago that I’d now be sitting in the High Court.” Michael Polak also emphasised Valeriia’s enthusiasm for the English justice system, telling me that it was “a pleasure to explain the peculiarities of our justice system to her and to learn of how similar cases would be dealt with in Ukraine.”

Although she hopes to one day return to UK legal life, Valeriia has now gone to Berlin to study for a Master’s in International Dispute Resolution at Humboldt University, building on the research skills gained by her time at Church Court. Michael hopes that the success of her internship will encourage more chambers to come offer internships to Ukrainian lawyers: “I hope that this pilot will be extended across the Bar as a beneficial programme both for the young Ukrainian lawyers who are keen to come to learn about our system of law, and for the chambers who will have access to top-level researchers and develop long-lasting links with Ukraine.”

Chambers interested in taking part in this scheme should contact Michael Polak at  [email protected].