by Louise Herd, Justice First Fellow and Clan Childlaw Trainee
So far, I have had the opportunity to shadow solicitors taking part in children’s hearings in the courts, attended children’s panel hearings, and client meetings. I have drafted letters, emails and court documents, and helped to lodge judicial review Petitions at the Court of Session. I have taken part in lots of valuable training around homelessness and immigration and asylum law, and I have even had the privilege of meeting Lady Hale.
I am really looking forward to continuing with the rest of my traineeship at Clan and to making a positive impact on the lives of children through that work.
What is the JFF Scheme?
The Justice First Fellowship was set up by the Legal Education Foundation to provide a path for aspiring lawyers who are interested in social welfare. The scheme funds a two-year training contract for firms who specialise in social welfare law. Those on the scheme, ‘fellows’, are supported by their firm and the scheme to devise and run their own project which aims to increase access to justice. The scheme is also a way to bring together other fellows from across the UK, in order to support them and to encourage them to be a part of a bigger network of lawyers who are committed to access to justice.
The underlying goal is to make the social welfare sector financially accessible to aspiring lawyers in the first instance, and to equip them with the skills and legal networks they need to continue working in this area long after they finish their traineeship.
What drew you to this area of work?
After developing an interest in human rights and public international law I went on to study an LLM in International Human Rights and Criminal Justice.
During this time, I also volunteered as a children’s counsellor. I worked with some amazing people who really encouraged and supported me in this role, and I gained skills and confidence in working with children.
Upon completing my LLM I moved back home and spent time working for a small firm in Inverness. Those I worked with taught me a great deal. I was able to see the difference that they made to people’s lives and that a career in law would be enjoyable and rewarding.
With all these positive experiences in mind, I decided to go back to university and complete the Diploma. I spent time volunteering in a legal centre in an immigration and asylum department, and after that I went on to volunteer in Calais with refugees.
When the traineeship with Clan came up, I already knew about their reputation for working with children and promoting children’s rights, and when I read about the JFF scheme I jumped right on the opportunity. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I had loved working with children in the past, the traineeship would allow me to help people in need, take on legal work and become involved in promoting the rights of others.
Working for an organisation who are both a charity and law firm allows me to continue to build on the positive experiences I have had whilst working in both sectors so far. Those I work with are supportive, encouraging, incredibly bright and overwhelmingly positive in what they do. The work they do for children is important and I am extremely proud to be a part of that.
What made you apply to the JFF Scheme?
The JFF Scheme was extremely exciting to me. During my undergraduate career and my DPLP there was always a great deal of encouragement, emphasis and sometimes pressure from peers and those working in the legal sector to apply to bigger firms. In my experience there was little to no focus on alternative career paths, and often the discussions I did have about any work involving legal aid were framed negatively. It was refreshing to discover the JFF Scheme. Whilst fully acknowledging the difficulties presented by this sector, such as the difficulties with legal aid etc, the JFF Scheme provided me with support and encouragement to go into a field where I can make a difference.
One of the other exciting aspects of the JFF Scheme is that the trainees or ‘fellows’ are required to undertake their own project during their traineeship. This has allowed me to continue learning in the field of immigration and asylum law which is an area of law that I am extremely passionate about. There isn’t another traineeship that I can think of that would give you such an opportunity.
What would you say to anyone looking to pursue a career in legal aid/social welfare?
Keep going. For me personally, I work best when I am engaged and interested in something. It was important to find work that I was passionate about. Finding an area of law that you are really interested in and pursuing it for as long as that makes sense to you is probably going to be my advice. If you want to work in legal aid/social welfare you should try your hardest to do just that.
Experience is key. It is just as important to pursue hobbies, interests and volunteer work out with the legal sector as it is to gain legal work experience. You don’t have to do it all at once, but if you want to work with people and help them through difficult problems you must be able to show that you have the ability to do so.
Reach out to those who interest you. Putting yourself out there and showing genuine interest in what people are doing never hurts. You may not always get the desired response, and sometimes you won’t even get a response, but I have found that people mostly do want to help and have been directed to some opportunities by showing an interest in this way.
Surround yourself with positive people. Studying law is extremely competitive and it’s sometimes difficult to be in that environment and around peers who frequently compare themselves with one another. Sometimes this continues into the legal workplace. My advice would be to find people that support you in work and in life. The search for a traineeship can be demoralising and I was lucky to have friends and family to support me through the process. I have also been lucky to find colleagues who respect and support one another, and this is something that, now having had experienced it, I would not sacrifice. Working in this field is demanding and can be emotionally difficult and having the right support in place is crucial.