Aspiring Solicitors & YLAL in Stoke on Trent: Networking & Introduction to Legal Aid 28.03.2017

"Insightful and practical; exactly what any aspiring lawyer needs to achieve success"

Jack Bizzell – Staffordshire University Student – LLB Hons Law 2 Year Fast Track

On 28 March 2017, Staffordshire University Law School was delighted to host a joint event between Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) and Aspiring Solicitors (AS). Nearly 80 people attended the event, including a number of solicitors and barristers from Stoke and Manchester.

Ruby Hammer (Head of Law) introduced the evening and welcomed everyone to the University. She set out her vision of becoming a Community Law School and to becoming an integral part of the local legal community.

Lisa Rutter (AS Student Representative) introduced Aspiring Solicitors and their aim to provide free access and opportunity to students from underrepresented groups in order to increase diversity in the legal profession. Rachel Lindberg (AS Student manager and future trainee at Hogan Lovells) then delivered an informative presentation on Networking, Linked In and Commercial Awareness – and gave lots of useful tips and examples of what to do and what NOT to do.

In the second part of the evening, Natalie Wilkins (Immigration & Asylum, Housing and Family Law Barrister from Garden Court North) introduced Young Legal Aid Lawyers. She invited a number of guest speakers to talk about their experiences in practice and to give advice to aspiring lawyers wishing to enter the profession. Geoff Davies spoke about a day in the life of a housing caseworker at the Citizens Advice and warned the audience to "expect the unexpected". Richard Brigden (Garden Court North) spoke with passion about being a Criminal Defence Barrister and told the students to "be themselves" when applying to chambers for pupillage. Akeel Khan, a graduate of Staffordshire University, spoke about being an Immigration Solicitor in Stoke and offered to help students gain work experience. (There was a very long queue to speak to him afterwards!) Finally, the very charismatic Gary Willock (Barrister from Garden Court North) spoke about his career as a Housing Barrister and provided an interesting insight into the various types of issues that he deals with.

The final part of the evening was Drinks, Nibbles and Networking. The Law School sponsored the catering for the networking event which was held in the authentic mock courtroom in the Law Building. This was a fantastic opportunity for students to speak to a number of different practitioners on a one to one basis. Geoff Bell, the Managing Partner of Stevens (which is one of the largest Criminal Defence firms in the country) was very generous with his time and stayed for a number of hours to talk to the students.

Adam Bonney, a Criminal Defence Solicitor from Robert Lizar in Manchester who attended, commended the students and said that they were the most engaging that I have come across at any event. Other professionals, such as Rachael Glover (a paralegal at Clyde and Co) and Andrew Hall (a LPC Law county court advocate) also praised the event and the enthusiasm of the students. Indeed, Katie Williamson (a trainee costs lawyer at Horwich Farrelly) said that it was great to meet such enthusiastic students who are clearly passionate about the law.

The event was a huge success. It provided a great insight into the realities of working as legal aid lawyer. It also provided a great opportunity for students to practise networking in a safe environment and to start making connections with future employers. In the words of a Level 5 Staffordshire University Law student and aspiring barrister, Harriet Rowley:

This event was a fantastic opportunity to speak with experienced barristers from a variety of practice areas, not only about their work, but also, about their individual paths to the Bar and the challenges they faced. And the event took place right on my doorstep at Staffordshire University!

It was a fantastic evening and I am looking forward to attending similar events at Staffordshire University in the future. 

Article by Sara Woodhouse Davie (Senior Lecturer in Law and dedicated Legal Careers Tutor) 

Photos of the event by Molly Woodhouse (Photo Journalism Student, Staffordshire University), can be see on the YLAL North facebook page