Lawyers who went to state schools can share their experiences with current pupils who will benefit from the insight.
Asked out for a drink later this week, the words, ‘sorry, I have to go and look at a secondary school that night’ were still coming out of my mouth as my mind registered that some very predictable ‘joke’ along the lines of ‘let’s hope they finish the job this time,’ was coming straight back.
The School Disco fad of a few years ago, it occurred to me, is one of many things that produces predictable smirks around the idea of grown-ups heading back to school. Very funny. Ho-ho.
On a more original and interesting note, in March this year, I met Alex Shapland-Howes, managing director of Future First, at the Gazette’s roundtable discussion on diversity, who I suspect has heard even more such ‘jokes’.
It’s his job to urge state school pupils to get back in touch with their old school. Many act as mentors and ‘e-mentors’, work experience providers, career and education role models and as governors, fundraisers and donors. Future First has 500 schools signed up to be put back in touch with 40,000 alumni who have signed up with the organisation.
That’s a lot of jokes to put up with – so I’ve since been interested in why the lawyers among those going ‘back to school’ were doing it. He’s since put me in touch with a few.
Their motivations are, of course, good and centre on correcting what they believe, from their own experience, is an imbalance. Without taking away form her current colleagues and peers, one barrister notes: ‘A lot of privately educated barristers and public school pupils are encouraged to aim high. This isn’t always mirrored in state schools.’
‘Law firms tend to be very traditional, conservative and don’t actively recruit. Private top schools and universities dominate,’ comments a solicitor, ‘I’d like to see that change.’
As with other well-motivated actions though, time-pressed, sceptical lawyers, whatever their background, will want to know what works about such a return to school. What works, these professionals insist, is practical help they wish they had benefited from. As the barrister puts it, she ‘would have found it very encouraging and valuable to talk to a barrister when she was considering careers’.
One media lawyer says that she ‘lets students know they should not consider it unattainable if they’re willing to work hard. If they’re skilled at analysis, negotiation and drafting, the law is a rewarding and fulfilling profession they may like to consider’.
A criminal lawyer relates that she found teenagers ‘are fascinated by the gritty day-to-day business of being a lawyer that they see on TV. They were interested in the day-to-day practicalities of doing the job and how to achieve entry’.
The next focus of activity for alumni is next month – a ‘back to school’ week running from 12-19 October. Law firms and legal departments supporting these initiatives include Taylor Wessing, Osborne Clarke, Ashurst and Barclays.
I’m not promising that going back through the school gates won’t feel weird. But if, looking back, there are things you wished you’d known about a legal career, or insights you’d have benefited from, you might want to find a way to share them with some young people.
Eduardo Reyes is Gazette features editor