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5 December, 2011

Top law firms practise making the law accessible to young people

On Thursday, representatives of 40 law teams listed in the UK top 100 and US top 50 met in London to learn about volunteering for our Lawyers in Schools scheme.

Discussion at the Lawyers in Schools networking event November 2011

The firms were interested in putting their legal staff into school classrooms for Lawyers in Schools. Lawyers volunteer for the scheme and help young people to develop their awareness and understanding of the law.

Tackling antipathy

Antipathy towards the justice system was a key driving force for the summer riots, according to reports from the Guardian and the London School of Economics and the government's Riots, Communities and Victims Panel.

Lawyers in Schools recognises this antipathy and encourages a better understanding between young people and legal professionals.

As one young participant has said: 'It clarified a lot of stuff for me ... I was brought up to be that the police were against us; they're doing their job ... this has clarified that'.

Rewarding and challenging

Thursday's event was hosted by Olswang, who have been involved with the scheme for four years. Linda Zell, their Head of Corporate Responsibility, spoke of the 'amazing feedback' they get from both lawyers and schools.

'We find it a brilliant way for the lawyers to use their skills but in a different way from just sitting at their desks,' she said later. 'They're able to actually interact with young people, share some of their skills and knowledge of the law and they absolutely love it.'

Sam Hudson, Olswang's Corporate Responsibility Executive, expanded on why the challenge of working with schools students is so rewarding:

'Seeing the young people possibly having very extreme views in some cases: and then you talk to them, you take them through the different aspects of it and then actually get them to understand it from a different point of view and a different perspective; and I think that's really inspiring just to help on that level'.

'[When] the lawyers come out the end they're like "That was really so much more difficult than some of our client work",' says Linda. 'When you're dealing with fifteen-year-old young people they are not going to hold back; if they don't understand it or you're not explaining it very well they will tell you that.'

Discussion at the Lawyers in Schools networking event November 2011

Discussion at the Lawyers in Schools networking event November 2011

In demand 

For the bulk of the session the delegates had to get their hands dirty. In groups they had to discuss some of the thorny moral issues that previous participants have had to tackle in the classroom. This was followed with what the law itself says about those issues.

Currently more than 20 law firms, in-house legal teams and chambers are involved in Lawyers in Schools, working with over 800 students. 

But there is a long waiting list of schools, and we are delighted that at least 15 of yesterday's interested firms are new to the scheme and so could boost its reach significantly.

'A fundamental part of life' 

One such firm is telecoms giant Verizon, who is keen for its in-house legal team to join the scheme. Roy Priestly, Senior Legal Counsel at Verizon Business, said:

'I think the lawyers would love to do that; I think they see themselves as being people who can thrive in that situation and also that they have a lot to give to the young people.

'I think it's an excellent thing for the children to help them develop their understanding of how society works.

'Because fundamentally,' he went on to say, 'Children and adults alike need to know how the law impacts them in society and how laws are generated; and it's a fundamental part of life, it's there for everyone'.

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