On Friday 13 May, the School of Law hosted an event to introduce the Legal Education Foundation to Scotland. It was attended by delegates from across the legal sphere of Scotland: solicitors from large commercial firms, Citizens Advice Bureaus and representatives from the civil service and Scottish universities. The day began with an introduction from Professor Jane Mair and Maria Fletcher, the organiser of the event, who both spoke of the excellent opportunity for the university and those in attendance to learn more about the foundation’s work and its benefits to Scotland.
The Legal Education Foundation (LEF) was represented by Alan Humphreys and Natalie Byrom, who both provided delegates with a background to the foundation and its projects to promote legal education and the study of law in all its branches.
The foundation originally operated as a law tutorial firm, then merged with the Law Society School of Law to become a charity under the name the College of Law, which delivered legal training. Foundation status was conferred in 2012. In 2014/2015 the foundation distributed £3.7 million in grants and in the commissioning of research.
The Legal Education Foundation’s five objectives are:
- to improve public understanding of the law and the capability to use it - to advance high quality thinking, training and practice in legal education and legal services to ensure legal needs are met - to increase access to employment in the legal profession and to advance social mobility and diversity - to develop a robust evidence base: both of need and effective methods of meeting need - to understand the role that technology can play in achieving its objectives
Natalie and Alan referred to several projects that had benefitted from the LEF’s involvement, such as ‘Maternity Action’ that aimed to help pregnant women who may be at risk of discrimination in the workplace. The foundation helped the project connect with popular app ‘Baby Buddy’ to send notifications to pregnant women with information on the best time to notify employers about their pregnancy, for example. The LEF has also funded a project which targets trafficking and labour exploitation, providing support and legal advice to those affected. The Pathways to Law project has helped disadvantaged pupils get in touch with universities and law firms, in a bid to increase diversity within these institutions.
The speakers then introduced the Justice First Fellowship programme, which involves the foundation funding a graduate traineeship in the area of social welfare law. The LEF covers the financial burden of hosting a trainee in law centres which would ordinarily be unable to provide such a position. As the foundation’s CEO, Tim Dutton, stated “We cannot ignore the risk that lawyers of high talent, a sense of social justice, and moral commitment may not be able to train in the areas of social welfare law where help is so desperately needed and on such a wide scale.”
The Justice First Fellowship is composed of three elements: promoting access to justice, providing a traineeship and providing additional training and support. Govan Law Centre and the Legal Services Agency in Scotland have benefitted from a Justice First Fellow and both were represented at the event.
Delegates heard from Kirsty Thomson, Head of Department at the Legal Services Agency law centre, who had hosted a fellow and spoke about her experience from the employer’s perspective; prior to the involvement of the foundation, the law centre did not have the capacity to provide a traineeship. The LSA now has the advantage of trainees who can ease the centre’s workload and provide much-needed skills and knowledge to those seeking help.
Deirdre Flanigan, from Govan Law Centre, spoke of her experience as a Justice First Fellow, which had allowed her the opportunity to pursue her chosen career path in social welfare law. During Deirdre’s fellowship at Govan Law Centre she has produced a report for the United Nations on human rights in Scotland.
The Royal Bank of Scotland was represented at the event by Kenny Robertson, Head of Legal Services at RBS, who had worked with the Foundation as a sponsor. Kenny spoke of how approachable and helpful the organisation was to work with and what a great chance it was for the bank to be involved with projects that would benefit the legal community and the Scottish public.
Rob Marrs, from the Law Society of Scotland, spoke about the society’s Street Law programme. Street Law provides a participatory, law-focused education to school pupils whilst also contributing to the professional development of Scots Law students. The students design and deliver classes about the law and the legal process, which also cover the skills that school pupils can use to recognise, prevent and resolve legal problems. Rob described how the programme is expanding its reach, with the society working with an increasing number of schools from across Scotland.
As I [Madelaine Cassidy] was involved with the Street Law programme this year, I provided delegates with an idea of what goes on in the classroom. I also recounted the reactions of pupils to the lessons and their own experiences with the law: when we asked a class of thirteen year olds whether they had ever been stopped and searched by the police, more than half of the students put their hands up. I suggested how valuable these lessons were to the children, who were more confident about their legal knowledge and how the law affected their daily lives. Our involvement with the class also allowed the pupils to learn about the study of law at university and to consider it as a future career path.
Following the formal presentations, the event concluded with a series of breakout sessions which allowed delegates to ask questions about the grant application process. Topics included:
- making effective applications and ideas for projects - the Justice First Fellowship - information on sponsors and partnerships with the foundation
Overall, the event was a great success, with attendees leaving with a deeper knowledge of the Legal Education Foundation and its aims of improving legal education in Scotland, diversity in the legal sphere and increased access for students wishing to work in social welfare law.
For those interested in applying for a Justice First Fellowship, applications will be open August-September this year. The foundation’s funding rounds are in May and October. Please keep an eye on The Legal Education Foundation’s website for further details and updates:
~ Madelaine Cassidy (School of Law Employability Team Intern)