My time as a Justice First Fellow

September 15th 2019

Ahead of welcoming another Justice First Fellowship trainee at Clan Childlaw, we take the opportunity to ask our solicitor, Jenna, about her experience as Justice First Fellow.

What drew you to this area of work and made you apply to the fellowship scheme?

My interest and drive to pursue a career in social welfare law was shaped by the volunteer positions I held during my studies, including working as a Generalist Advisor for a local Citizens Advice Bureau. It strengthened my desire to seek a traineeship at an organisation or law centre working to help people.

I was excited to see such an opportunity offered through the Justice First Fellowship. I knew about the work of Clan and the unique position it has as the only law centre to provide representation exclusively to children and young people. I knew I had to apply right away.

Tell us a bit about the Justice First Fellowship and what makes it different

I have been fortunate to be part of the third cohort of Justice First Fellows. I say this all the time but the fellowship really does elevate the traineeship beyond the standard 2-year training contract. There are countless opportunities to develop the skills you need as a social welfare lawyer throughout the fellowship with practical training and development opportunities. I have been able to meet inspiring people working in social welfare law across different jurisdictions, share ideas and learn from their experiences. It is a fantastic opportunity to be part of a network of likeminded individuals all working at fantastic organisations across the country improving access to justice.

Throughout the fellowship, I have also been part of a cluster of fellows specializing in child law across the UK. This was made possible by the generous co-funding provided by BBC Children in Need. Not only has this meant a new generation of specially trained child law solicitors qualifying but it has fostered a lot of opportunities for cooperative working and closer connections between the host organisations. As a bonus, I have made great friends through the scheme.

 What was your project?

Another opportunity provided by the fellowship is to develop a project aimed at increasing access to justice. I worked with LGBT Youth Scotland on their campaign to improve legal rights and recognition for transgender and non-binary young people. I supported some of their youth participation work with their Youth Commission and their policy team. The contribution towards the equal recognition campaign by LGBT Youth Scotland has massively raised awareness of the difficulties young people face with gender recognition currently and the importance of reform.

 What are the most rewarding and challenging things about being a legal aid lawyer?

Overall, work as a legal aid lawyer is incredibly rewarding. At Clan, we are using the law as a tool to help create real positive changes in the lives of children and young people. Very little compares to helping a young person give their views, participate in decisions about them or access what they are legally entitled to.

It is challenging to see persistent issues that come up time and time again for young people that access our services and engage with us. There continue to be significant barriers to children and young people having their rights articulated, considered and enforced. That is what drives the work we do, to provide a child-centered service and to identify how the law could work better for children and young people.

 And finally, what would you say to anyone thinking of becoming a legal aid lawyer?

I think that it is often daunting for students to think about what kind of lawyer they want to be. The path to becoming a legal aid lawyer is not often promoted or encouraged. That is why I would encourage anyone thinking about working in this area to check out the Justice First Fellowship. I didn’t come from a conventional background and it has taken me a bit longer to get to my chosen career path but it is possible. As well as ensuring that the host organisations can continue to provide vital services, the Justice First Fellowship scheme contributes to making a career in social welfare law sustainable.

Applications for the Justice First Fellowship scheme must be submitted by 16th September via the LEF website. See here for further information and to apply.