'His career gave the lie to the myth, much propagated today in some quarters, that such a career is only possible for those of an upper middle-class background followed by public school and Oxbridge education' - Lord Roskill on the career of Lord Edmund-Davies
One of the most respected lawyers and judges of the last century, Lord Edmund-Davies (and his legacy LEDLET – the legal education charity founded in his name) is a shining example of what successes can be achieved when ambition and ability are met with the right opportunities. Opportunities which to some may seem far less obtainable, and, in some cases, nigh on impossible.
As the world of work evolves, so too do the attitudes of those entering into the workforce. Changing expectations, a shift in approach and growing confidence in the right to be able to hold employers to account for their hiring practices, are all contributing to candid conversations around social mobility in the legal sector (and more broadly) that have never before been had. At least not so publicly.
Law, amongst other professions, can be and has long been regarded by many, as suggested by Lord Roskill above, as a 'high-brow' profession reserved for the upper echelons of society, for whom an Oxbridge education is a given and for whom personal and professional connections of benefit are more than well established. A view which – whether founded in truth or myth – can appear a daunting prospect and even a deterrent to those who come from a background which doesn’t quite fit that mould.
Like Lord Edmund-Davies, I wasn’t born into a family of lawyers. As the first in my family to go to university, I was raised in rural surrounds near Swansea, far from the conference rooms of a City law firm. I was taught through the medium of Welsh. Used to the friendly ramblings of complete-strangers-who-act-like-neighbours, London seemed a fast-paced dystopia of smartly-clad, cold individuals who speak just as quickly as they walk and seem to be struck down with dread when approached by unknowns (however friendly and well-intentioned) in public. Of course, I now know that isn’t the case at all. People aren’t disinterested or unfriendly, they’re just busy. But, imagined or otherwise, the perceived reality can be intimidating to out of towners.
Unfortunately for me, I knew nobody in law and so seeking the wisdom of a mentor wasn’t an option. Whilst, sadly, it’s not something I experienced myself, it is something on which I now place huge importance! I feel an enormous sense of responsibility to younger, less experienced people looking to forge a career in the legal sector. I don’t by any means have all of the answers, but I think it’s imperative to share my positive experiences and mistakes alike. If I could offer others only one piece of advice, it would to be to remember that you cannot fast forward experience. If you’re ambitious, hard-working and diligent then experience will follow.
Now, as the chair of LEDLET – having previously worked in the role of trustee – I can do even more to ensure that young people living in Wales (or those with a connection with Wales) who are interested in entering the legal profession, can have access to information and opportunities that allow them to do so. I am fiercely passionate about the organisation’s guiding aim, which is to ensure that nobody in society concludes that their background will prevent them from entering the law.
Through LEDLET’s summer scheme and its judicial mentoring scheme, Welsh lawyers from across the legal spectrum work to inspire students in Wales and give them the chance to observe what daily life might be like as a judge, barrister or solicitor. In my capacity as a partner within Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner’s family asset protection team, I’m delighted to have recently hosted a reception on 21 January at our offices alongside the Right Hon Lord Lloyd-Jones of the Supreme Court.
The joint event in London and Cardiff (via video link) was an opportunity to launch the LEDLET summer scheme 2020, to thank the current and future mentors of the scheme and to publicise the fact that in July 2020 LEDLET will be running a scheme in Cardiff with the association of Legal Wales. One of our alumni, Katie Rivers, gave a heart-warming speech about why LEDLET is so important and how it has 'changed her life'.
Of the organisation, Lord Lloyd-Jones said:
'LEDLET has adopted Lord Edmund Davies’s motto which is “anela’n uchel” - “aim high”. I can think of no better motto for this organisation because it represents exactly the aspiration we have for the young people whose careers we seek to promote. We want to assist them to aim high so that, in time, they can become leading members of the profession. I am delighted to play a part in the work of LEDLET because it is about social mobility. It is about the chances we all received and about making similar opportunities available to some of the brightest and best of our young people in Wales.'
Elizabeth Hicks, partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and the chair of LEDLET