The article considers the kinds of responsibilities anthropologists might have when working on immigration and asylum matters, particularly in the light of recent ‘reforms’ to the funding of legal aid in the UK. The article focuses on a single case study in its context, exploring an interaction between an immigrant applicant and a lawyer/case worker in a not-for-profit Law Centre. The paper shows how case workers find themselves caught in the middle, squeezed between increasing financial pressures and their ethical obligation to their clients. In their everyday work they are faced with the contradictory imperatives of giving sympathy and advice to genuinely deserving cases on the one hand while being required to check up on opportunist and possibly deceitful clients on the other. In the context of ‘reform’, they are increasingly encouraged to prejudge the probable outcomes of cases by reference to ‘value for money’. These effects, we argue, have severe consequences given the adversarial nature of the UK's system of law. As anthropologists, our aim was to investigate the day-to-day realities of case worker/client interactions, to enable both ourselves and legal practitioners, in conversation, to reflect on our own and each others' interpretations of the situation, and to place these in the public domain.