The Fight for Social Justice: Young Lawyers Making Social Change, a conference organised by Young Legal Aid Lawyers with the Public Law Project supported by the Legal Education Foundation, took place on Saturday 3 March 2018.
As a paralegal recently recruited by the childcare team at Creighton’s and therefore new to the world of social welfare law, it was a great opportunity for me – alongside fellow paralegal, Robbie Eyles – to hear from the wide range of impressive speakers and panellists, and to begin to build a network with like-minded people from those practising in family and childcare, mental health law, public law, housing, community care and the list goes on. Some of the presentations adopted a practitioner perspective, exploring issues such as how to build a social justice campaign, to how to get a training contract. Other talks took a more conceptual approach, exploring the wider issues that social welfare law faces and how best to approaches these issues.
The day began with inspiring speeches from Louise Christian, Dr Laura Janes, Sara Lomri and Denisa Gannon, women who have all strived for and created social change in their legal work and work outside but running alongside the law. The fundamental crux of their speeches, which really set the tone for the day, was that in the face of austerity, we, working in social welfare law, must mobilise with other socially focused organisations and front line services and campaign together to ensure the survival of social welfare safety net. The law, they argued, can be used as a creative tool within this, but it is not the only tool, and it is important to remember this.
The importance of keeping a human-centred approach within social welfare law was another key theme throughout the day. Keeping the needs of our client’s central to our practice will help us to be the best social welfare lawyers possible. Practical ways to do this were discussed, for example, to make law more accessible for the people we aim to help, we should remember to keep legal jargon in our offices and the courts.
New to the world of law, I found the ‘Becoming a Social Justice Lawyer’ session, chaired by Creighton’s Heather Thomas, an extremely useful part of the conference. The talk offered a more detailed insight into the pathways into social welfare law, as told by a solicitor, a barrister, and a Legal Executive to be, Creighton’s very own Karlyne Oakes. The session ended with an energetic and practical talk covering everything from how to write a good job application, to how to win a training contract – including the seemingly trivial but useful advice to always wear a jacket/blazer in your interview!
The day concluded with an inspiring speech from Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty. Ms. Spurrier asked us to consider Michael F. Bennet’s notion that ‘Hope is Work’. With the above in mind, she stressed that we cannot shy away from hard work and tough cases. In fact Martha argued that the act of working hard, with all the barriers we as social welfare lawyers face to creating social change, truly shows hope in action. It was an incredibly uplifting ending to such a fantastic day, and a great way to spend an icy Saturday in London with a number of Creighton’s colleagues.
Article by Bethany Eldon Kerr who is paralegal to Deborah Marsden, Director of Creighton and Partners Solicitors.