New group to advance legal careers for those with experience of care

Barnes: People made assumptions about those from the care system

A community interest company has been launched to “bridge the gaps in opportunities” for aspiring lawyers who have lived experience of the care system.

Lawyers Who Care (LWC) was founded by barrister Kate Aubrey-Johnson, who specialises in youth justice and children’s rights, and Lucy Barnes, who is starting a pupillage in October and was in the care system.

LWC defines ‘care-experienced’ as having spent any period of time in care, whether in foster care, residential care or other forms of care before the age of 18. It would usually involve having a social worker and receiving support from the local authority or children’s services.

Ms Barnes, who starts a pupillage at East Anglian Chambers in October, said: “I founded LWC because I didn’t want others to experience the barriers I faced when entering the legal profession.

“I did not have parental support, social capital, access to networking or financial assistance to support myself when undertaking unpaid work experience.”

Ms Barnes was in foster care from the age of 13 to 16. She said others made assumptions about care-experienced people and “fail to see us holistically as people who can bring unique skills and talents to the table”.

She added: “I want LWC to erase the stigma associated with being care-experienced and show that we can be lawyers too.”

Ms Aubrey-Johnson, who practises from Garden Court Chambers, said: “The real challenge is that law is a very competitive industry that can be very expensive to get into.

“You need networks to build up the work experience and gain access to the profession.”

With the launch of LWC, care-experienced aspiring lawyers will “know that there is a supportive organisation that they can turn to for help”.

This includes practical guidance on the support available from local authorities and academic institutions, which could offer discounts on fees or accommodation.

Ms Aubrey-Johnson said mentoring would guide young people through the process of becoming a lawyer, including advice other people might get from their parents, relatives and friends.

Law firms and chambers would be supported in introducing paid work experience, because most opportunities were voluntary, and care-experienced people had to pay their way through college and university.

Ms Aubrey-Johnson said there was a concern that young people with experience of care “self-select” out of becoming a lawyer.

“Some young people feel they will be treated negatively and care will be a stigma and a label that will not help them.”

The barrister said that, in reality, experience of care might give them “resilience, tenacity and determination” through the “far greater challenges that they have experienced than their peers”.

Ms Aubrey-Johnson is co-author of Dare to Care, a guide to help legal professionals better support care-experienced young people. She is also chair of the Ministry of Justice working group on youth advocacy.

The LWC aims to “bridge the gaps in opportunities the care-experienced community often experience, as well as dissolve the stigma”.

As well as long-term mentoring by barristers and solicitors, LWC aims to provide short-term mentoring for applications and interview advice through its network of lawyers.

Long-term mentors will be trained in care experience and trauma and there will be a service for schools and colleges to “bring the law back down to earth” with workshops for care-experienced young people.

On the LWC website, Ms Barnes outlined some of the barriers she faced to entering the legal profession, including being “pitied by her peers during mini-pupillages” when she disclosed being care-experienced, which “impacted her self-esteem”.

Ms Barnes had to self-fund mini-pupillages and work experience, because only one out of seven paid for her time and expenses, and as a result “had to work overtime at her two part-time jobs which impacted her studies”.

She was called to the Bar at the age of 21, and was 26 when she secured pupillage.

Gemma Creamer, a care-experienced Bar student at the Inns of Court College of Advocacy, is the chief operations officer of LWC.

LWC is funded by the Segelman Trust. Founder member organisations include Garden Court Chambers, Blackstone Chambers, East Anglian Chambers, Oliver Fisher Solicitors, Spire Barristers, 3 Verulam Building Chambers and the law firm Dawson Cornwell.

    Readers Comments

  • Brian says:

    This is great.
    I wonder about people that weren’t in care but suffered adverse childhood experiences growing up. Many of whom still suffer the system and want to fight the injustice of it but are powerless to do so.

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