> Government Legal Department Volunteer Experience Friday, 18th November 2016
Along with a number of colleagues from the Government Legal Department, I recently had the opportunity to volunteer at a local secondary school as part of the Citizenship Foundation’s Lawyers in Schools scheme. I found the day hugely rewarding.
We had all been provided with excellent training on the scheme, and the materials given to us made preparation a simple process. However I soon found myself sitting at a table with 7 students looking at me in expectation, and a sudden wave of anxiety washing over me. I needn’t have worried; from the get-go the students, all of whom were 13-14 years old, were friendly, polite and engaged.
We started with an exercise that involved the students thinking about the importance of age in law. I asked them to give their view on the appropriate age for activities such as voting, driving, and babysitting, and then to guess what the law actually said. Initially they all started discussing what the law says, or what other people say on the matter. I encouraged them instead to express their own views by questioning the conventional wisdom of the minimum age of voting. Before long they started to reveal some astoundingly well thought out and convincing arguments. As we moved through the activities, I continued to be struck by their maturity and ability to think through complex issues.
At their age, I remember feeling as though the rules could not be questioned, and that the law was the ultimate rulebook. I was therefore thrilled that these students began to question the rationality of the laws we were discussing, and that they did so in a mature and reasonable way.
Our discussions often included references to social media. Arguably, we live in a time when misinformation can be as prevalent as information. What’s more, political, legal and social campaigns seem to be more powerful and influential than ever before. Therefore, helping to encourage 7 students to think critically, to develop their own opinions, and to feel as though they are empowered to make positive changes in the world was an overwhelmingly rewarding experience.
Not only that, but also working with a diverse group of people, and seeing the world through their eyes, has benefitted me both personally and in my work. All in all, not a bad outcome for a couple of hours on a cold, foggy Friday afternoon.
> A summary of our National Pro Bono Week event Tuesday, 10th November 2015
The Lawyers in Schools team hosted an event on 5th November 2015 to celebrate National Pro Bono Week. The event was hosted by Weil Gotshal & Manges and included a panel discussion around the topic: “Volunteering in schools: good for business?”
The event opened with a speech from the Solicitor General Robert Buckland QC MP in which he highlighted the importance of public legal education and the obligation of the legal profession to assist in its delivery. The Solicitor General QC MP said, “I believe that teaching Public Legal Education in our schools and colleges is of vital importance. It not only allows young people the chance to develop a clear understanding of the law, but also creates a sense of pride in our institutions, of which our legal system is a great example.”
The panel itself was made up of Linda Zell, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Olswang, Carolyn Frame, EA to the General Counsel at BBC Worldwide, Sameer Karimbhai, Legal Counsel at Centrica Energy and James Howell, Assistant General Counsel at JP Morgan. The panel discussed their experience of Lawyers in School, with Carolyn and Linda discussing how Olswang and BBC Worldwide work together to successfully deliver the programme in their partner school and the business development opportunities that have arose as a result. James and Sameer discussed their personal experience of the programme and the skills which they have developed through volunteering in the classroom which are transferable and necessary in their work place.
The Lawyers in Schools team would like to thanks the Solicitor General QC MP, the wonderful panellists, Weil Gotshal & Manges for hosting the event and all the attendees who took the time out of their busy day to discuss this important issue and celebrate National Pro Bono Week 2015 with us.
> Pro Bono week event Wednesday, 30th September 2015
> Update from the Lawyers in Schools team Thursday, 24th September 2015
2014/15 was another very successful year for the Lawyers in Schools programme; over 251 sessions ran and 500 employees volunteered. This means that in 2014/15 1200 students had the opportunity to participate in the Lawyers in Schools programme. This is a fantastic contribution to ensuring that as many young people as possible benefit from a public legal education. (A full Impact Report for 2014/15 will be available in October 2015)
Lawyers in Schools ran in Edinburgh for the first time, pioneered by CMS Cameron McKenna in partnership with the Royal Bank of Scotland. The success of this has resulted in CMS expanding the project in to Glasgow with The Weir Group in 2015/16.
This year also saw new partnerships with Travers Smith, Pillsbury, Simmons & Simmons and Mitsubishi UFJ Securities. These sessions proved very popular with both the students and the volunteers and will be continuing in 2015/16.
The Lawyers in Schools programme also successfully ran in Australia and Romania this year; again this is widening our reach and raising awareness of the programme internationally, which is a key part of the growth of the programme, and one we hope will increase over the coming year.
The year ahead
Welcome to The Weir Group and Home Retail Group who will be joining the programme in 2015/16 and widening our regional reach even further.
There are 38 firms, chambers and in-house legal teams signed up to participate in the project in 2015/16 and the Lawyers in Schools team are currently in discussion with all of the partnerships to arrange sessions in schools and to train the lawyers to get ready for going into the classroom.
New team members
The Lawyers in Schools team also welcomes two new members of staff this year.
Alice Scott is the new Project Co-ordinator and will primarily be looking after the London partnerships. Alice comes from a legal background and has just completed the Bar Professional Training Course. Alice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 566 5038.
Dorothy Spencer is the new Project Manager and will be overseeing the regional and London partnerships and seeking to develop new regional links. Dorothy is a qualified secondary MFL teacher. Dorothy can be contacted at email@example.com or 0207 566 7757.
> Wexham School visits Centrica Energy for an inspirational day Thursday, 20th November 2014
Earlier this year, volunteers from the Centrica Energy legal team, headed by general counsel David Isenegger and deputy general counsel Lisa Minns, took part in a successful six week Lawyers in Schools (LIS) programme with Wexham School in Slough, delivering sessions ranging from Social Media and the Law, Discrimination and Youth Justice. The feedback from the students was very positive and provided a great opportunity for them to increase their self-confidence and ability to work together. For the volunteers, it provided us with a different and challenging environment and allowed us to develop new skills outside the office.
As a follow-up to the LIS programme, we thought it would be a nice experience for the students to come to Millstream [Centrica's office] and gain a better understanding of the working environment of a large corporation such as Centrica. A significant impact of the LIS programme was raising the students’ aspirations of going to university and potentially studying law and therefore the day was structured to give students an opportunity to realise the different career options available to them and understand how to make a good impression to potential employees.
The day included a series of interactive talks given by Kayleigh Ryan from the People Development Team about Centrica and the vast array of jobs available within the organisation, together with a very useful session on general career advice such as CV writing and job applications. This was followed by a presentation from the CE legal team on the different routes available to pursue a career in law. The day ended with a tour of Millstream which wouldn’t be complete without seeing the CE Legal team’s Palace of Justice. The students were very impressed!
Sameer Karimbhai (Centrica Lead Lawyer of the LIS Programme) and Lisa Edmond (Centrica LIS Coordinator)
> Lawyers in Schools’ 15th Birthday – students’ speech Monday, 9th June 2014
Thursday 5th June saw us celebrate Lawyers in Schools 15th Birthday in style with a fantastic party hosted by Olswang. There was much to celebrate and plenty to eat, including a Lawyers in Schools cupcake or two.
Six students from Haggerston School, in Hackney, told the audience about their experience of the programme and why they think it’s important.
The students worked very hard on their speech and delivered it very well; below is what they had to say.
‘Since taking part in the Lawyers in School programme, I have learnt that the law is varied and interesting. I have been able to work with real lawyers who deal with real business cases, and real people, such as children and adults. I have also learnt that interacting with people is a big part of the job because you have to communicate with your client or clients. I have also learnt more about social media, and how to make a positive contribution to my community.’ Reece
‘The programme helped me to realise that debating and presenting is not only about expressing my views. It is also about listening to the opinions of others and keeping a calm composure throughout. I developed my ability to present and communicate my ideas clearly. I also learnt more about advocacy skills. During a debating task, I realised that my opposition could sense my nerves and use it against me as a way to strengthen their arguments. Therefore, I quickly learnt to listen carefully to identify flaws in their arguments. I also had to anticipate points that my opponents might say and plan possible responses so they could not catch me off guard.’ Dylan
‘I think it’s important for young people to learn about the law because it gives us a better understanding of the laws themselves and our rights as young people. This is good if you have career aspirations to do with the law for example police officer, lawyer, judge and many more. It’s also helpful because it helps develop good citizenship skills and other transferable skills that we could use in the future.’ Felix
‘I enjoyed the Lawyers in Schools programme because I was able to interact with professional lawyers who were experienced and pleasant to be around. I really enjoyed learning about human rights issues, and I now know what age I can legally get a job. I also liked the fact that the lawyers were very open minded, and supportive of my opinions- no matter how peculiar or bizarre some of my ideas were. The lawyers’ encouragement therefore helped me to develop my confidence. This is one of the reasons why I have been able to stand in front of you today.’ Tyanna
‘I enjoyed working with the lawyers because they were easy to communicate with and they helped me to learn more about the law. They were also willing to speak to me about whether to choose to study law in the future. I was expecting the lawyers to be harsh, serious, stuck up and snooty. I thought that they would mainly talk about money and themselves because that is what I was told about the lawyers and also because that was what I watched on television. However, when I met them they were different and now my opinion had changed.’ Hope
‘I would like more lawyers to participate in the Lawyers in Schools programme because my friends and I, as well as every young person in this room, could potentially be the lawyers of the future. But we need your help to develop our skills. We have really enjoyed working with people who are older and wiser than us. We have really enjoyed learning about our rights as young people, as well as our responsibilities. We appreciate the time that so many lawyers have invested in us. I would like more young people like myself, to be given the opportunity to learn about how to be a key part of a positive, responsible law abiding community. Thank you very much to the Citizenship Foundation, and the lawyers at Freshfields and Prudential for working with us.’ Shaniah
> Tips for getting the budget you need to participate in Lawyers in Schools Monday, 7th April 2014
Tips for getting the budget you need to participate in Lawyers in Schools:
While a CSR budget is probably the first and most natural choice to find the funds for Lawyers in Schools, it’s certainly not the only one. Read on for more ideas of how the benefits of Lawyers in Schools map onto budget holders’ priorities.
- Share the cost – invite a client to join you and split the cost. It’s like joining a gym versus working out at home – you’ll both be more committed if you’re paying for it and you’ll likely find that the relationships you develop in the classroom lead to more and better business back in the office.
- Marketing – It’s a great opportunity to be publicized for your great work in the community. You’ll be seen as a CSR leader amongst your peers, participating in one of the most established and proven effective public legal education programmes available.
- Training – Our evaluation reports demonstrate time and again what a great skills development opportunity this is for our partners. You can also earn CPD points for volunteering with us. With the option for volunteers to participate in as few or as many session as they like, it’s a cost effective, socially positive way for staff to develop their skills.
- HR- Studies (including our evaluation report) show that employees who take part in their company’s volunteering initiatives consistently feel more positive about the company and their role. It’s well worth allocating a mere fraction of the cost of a staff party for what one volunteer describes as ‘the best part of my week’.
- Recruitment - New recruits evaluate companies based on their corporate responsibility and are more likely to choose organisations whose values align with their own.
- Team Building – Team building days are often expensive, can be a bit cringe-worthy, and ultimately can be of questionable long-term value. With Lawyers in Schools you’ll be encouraging team bonding over a positive, genuinely useful cause and getting to see each other in a new light. What better way to form bonds within your teams and within your wider community?
- Employee Fundraising – Have the time but not the money? Why not host a fundraising event in the office to make up the budget deficit? Whether it’s coming to work in fancy dress or showing off your baking skills, you can showcase your leadership skills, raise the profile of the great work you’re doing, and get increased recognition for Lawyers in Schools and the Citizenship Foundation. You might find more colleagues interested in participating after chipping in to keep the programme going (see point 1!).
Participating in Lawyers in Schools is a win-win-win. You’re demonstrating your commitment to CR in your community, improving your ability to attract, develop and retain top talent, and investing in the future generation’s legal capability. Surely that’s an investment worth budgeting for.
> CSR can contribute to greater gender equality in the workplace through improved opportunities for networking Thursday, 6th March 2014
CSR can contribute to greater gender equality in the workplace through improved opportunities for networking.
It’s a bold statement that might seem like an empty promise. But when you really think about it and examine the way power structures work, it’s not. The – very unfortunate – reality that we live in is that many high paying and influential professions like finance, law, and politics are still wildly unequal in regards to gender, especially at the top. And it’s a well-known adage that people tend to hire people who remind them of themselves, which only perpetuates the problem. This is one way in which institutional racism operates for example. Another common refrain is that people do business with people – meaning personal relationships are also vital in developing new opportunities. And we all know opportunities don’t come about just through the jobs section of the local newspaper; opportunities are also found, crucially, through networks, and a key feature of networks is that they are based on shared interests.
So how do people get to know each other, to learn about their shared interests and see who ‘reminds them of themselves’ in a large company? Daily interactions in the office are one thing, but people who work together (whether in the same company or within the same sector) don’t just get to know each other at work – they also get to know each other at industry events, while chatting in a taxi on the way to a meeting, or after work at the pub. And with more men at the top – only 4.6% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs for example — the higher up the ladder you go, the more male dominated the opportunities are for networking both in and outside of the office. Whether it’s golf, the pub, or a formal networking dinner, it can feel like an ‘old boys’ club’ when an overwhelming and consistent majority of the people there are men. Women may not be explicitly excluded from these events, but they don’t necessarily foster a welcoming or inclusive environment either. (A friend has told me stories about her sales team’s visits to strip clubs after conferences - clients are invited, so that even a lap dance can be expensed to the company.) This puts women at a real disadvantage, as it’s so often through these informal networks that we find commonalities and form the relationships that can lead to professional opportunities, and ultimately, professional success.
How does employee volunteering factor in? Volunteering together offers a more inclusive opportunity to get to know your colleagues and clients. By engaging in volunteering activities together at work, you get to see another side of your colleagues and connect with them on a different level – which, ideally, will lead you to see more of the things you have in common. Whether it’s finding out you have kids the same age or a shared love of DIY, doing something different with your team, colleagues, and clients can be a fantastic way to learn more about who your colleagues are and what skills they have beyond the ones they use at work.
While this argument applies across the board in virtually every sector*, it’s especially important in those that remain male dominated. A well-rounded CSR programme that includes employee volunteering (and furthermore, engaging clients in employee volunteering opportunities) can give women, who are often directly or indirectly excluded from other types of networking, another avenue to develop the professional relationships that are key to creating new opportunities. Employers are increasingly aware of this and many actively create policies and search for opportunities to support employee volunteering. In doing so, they help ensure that they are providing opportunities for people to get to know each other and to develop a professional relationship outside of other, less inclusive, forms of networking. Making those links with influential players – both internally and externally to one’s company – can have a fantastic, positive effect on one’s career. Lawyers in Schools participants CMS Cameron McKenna are proof of this: they have found that the improved relationships they developed through participating in volunteering together with a client led to more business for the firm.
To sum up: expanding your activities expands your networks, which in turn expands the number and type of opportunities that you are exposed to. By offering more opportunities for men and women at all levels of seniority to interact and find common interests, employers can help to ensure that networks go beyond ‘old boys’ clubs’ to be more inclusive and more diverse. At first glance, participating in CSR activities may not radically change your career, but it might give you the opportunity to chat to a senior level executive about something you have in common – and in the long run, that just might.
*I focus on women in honour of International Women’s Day on March 8th but recognize that this argument can be made for many under-represented groups - which is all the more reason to get involved!
> A volunteer's experience of Lawyers in Schools Tuesday, 26th November 2013
Before my first session at the Heathland School, I felt the usual anticipation of doing something different. I had various fears including; how will they engage; will I be able to hold their interest; how do I remember all of the points raised in training; will the students be interested enough to want to talk about the stuff I find fascinating?
In my anticipation, I and a couple of other volunteers arrived way too early. However, sitting waiting at reception gave me a fascinating insight into what goes on behind the scenes to provide an effective learning environment within a school. The staff is completely engaged in looking after the students and providing a challenging and stimulating place to absorb information and turn it into knowledge. My own memories of school are so distant, but I don't remember this brightness and focus on individual and team bests. It must have been there, but my overall impression of this school is the clear understanding of students’ behaviour, and an acknowledgement of each person's role in how to make them thrive. The teacher is keen and welcoming, the reception team calmly efficient. The session timing is precise; all students know where they should be.
We are introduced to our students and we perform the initial dance of how to pronounce each other's names and establish common areas of interest. We find out why they are here and what they hope to get out of it. Both sides are on our best behaviour and full of mutual curiosity.
Each student has various goals for the sessions; gain career direction, consider what options to take, what is law all about. They are all curious about the career path to become a lawyer and what kind of things may help them decide their own future.
During the first session we learn how to tease out their responses. It is a challenge to make sure we, as volunteers, work effectively together when we may not have worked together before. We want to encourage students to talk so I make a conscious effort to take a back seat. We want to draw out the quiet ones without stifling naturally outgoing students. There are clear signals of who is passionately involved in the subject compared to others who are unsure or who are there because it looks good on their CV and therefore may need more encouragement to really engage with the topic.
By the second session, there are already signs that originally, reluctant students are becoming more interested and beginning to engage. It is rewarding to see these students, who were initially so unsure, come out of their shells and start using their own reasoning to support answers in their own way. Even if students have no previous knowledge, they are pulled in by the relevance of the material, applying it to their own situations and experiences.
I found it interesting to see how the case study material leads us through the set of legal principles to build a framework within which students can see how their overall rights are established in law. After the Consumer Law module, students commented that the sessions were helping them gain life skills, for example not getting angry and understanding they have the same rights as an adult when they want to return something and so they need to be assertive about claiming those rights. One of our students even commented that they would like more regular sessions to get to grips with each topic (our sessions are held every 3 weeks).
My experience as a volunteer has been incredibly rewarding and hearing that at least one student in our group will miss having the sessions until we resume in February justifies rescheduling my working day and even foregoing a speaking slot at a conference to be at the session.
An additional benefit is that participating gives me a chance to interact with a colleague and even get some work done, as we can chat before the start of the session. Participating in Lawyers in Schools has also refreshed my understanding of areas of law I don't usually spend much time on. It’s even given me another way to connect with my daughter. I am keen to get an inside view on what a student might think, so I discuss the material with my own teenager. She gains knowledge and it gives me a chance to talk though issues with her and get her views.
Lawyers in Schools is brilliant at making me feel useful in a completely different environment to my normal work!
> Lawyers in Schools and Parliament week Monday, 18th November 2013
In case you weren’t already aware, this week is Parliament week. What’s that, I hear you cry? Well it is a UK-wide programme of events and activities that have been designed to inspire, engage and connect people with parliamentary democracy. This has spurred me on to shamelessly blog about the Citizenship Foundation’s Lawyers in Schools programme - as the Project Officer of said programme.
The programme ties in with Parliamentary democracy by helping to educate young people about the law, by developing their skills of questioning and debate, and by getting them to consider how they fit into the legal system. By educating young people about the law in general we are boosting their confidence and empowering them to be able to fully participate in our democratic society.
The first session Learning about the Law asks students to consider at what age they think they should gain certain legal rights and at what age they actually do gain these rights. I am always struck by how passionately students argue their cases. Just last week I listened to a student proclaim that at the age of 16 young people should be given the right to vote so that they can have a say and about the education system – highlighting that by the time they go to university they will have to pay fees that they haven’t had a say about and by the time they do get a say it will be too late to make a difference. Over the years I have also listened intently to students that have raised eyebrows at the fact that they could find themselves a parent before 18 or join the army at 16 yet not get to vote about issues which might affect them such as child benefit or foreign policy.
On the flip side I have heard students strongly argue against the idea of the lowering of the voting age - some even suggesting that it should be raised. Their argument being that they feel they are not mature enough to understand important issues that are contained within political manifestos. Some even state that they suspect if the voting age was lowered young people would simply ask their parents who to vote for.
But I digress… my agenda in this post is not to discuss young people’s views on voting (although these are very interesting), but to flag up how the Lawyers in Schools programme has and how it continues to connect young people with Parliamentary democracy. For a full description of how the programme works, to join our waiting list or to speak to the team for any other reason please get in touch.
Oh and for some more thoughts and discussions about voting, why not read the following blog posts: