For many of us aspiring Human Rights lawyers, the prospect of fighting for our place in this increasingly competitive area of legal practice can be daunting. I am a current LPC LLM student and I know many of us, myself included, have been warned off and told that there are more opportunities, more money and more training contracts in commercial practice. However, after attending HRLA’s “How to be a Human Rights Lawyer” event, it is clear it is not yet time to give up our dreams. For those committed to forging a career in the protection and furtherance of human rights and social justice, there are a myriad of opportunities out there.
We heard from a number of speakers on the day, ranging from solicitors, barristers, and those involved in the running of Law Centres, to name but a few.
Human rights heavyweights, solicitor Elkan Abrahamson and Pete Weatherby QC both gave insights into their respective fields and an inspiring example of what can be achieved, through their work on the new Hillsborough Law (watch this space). They highlighted how human rights brings life to the law, and how important it is to be proactive in changing the law through litigation.
We also heard from human rights NGOs, Liberty and Justice. We would be amiss in neglecting the invaluable work and opportunities that NGOs provide in educating and advising the public, shaping the law with precedent test cases and campaigning for policy reform. There are internships and volunteering places up for grabs, both legal and administrative, if you can show you are the right candidate.
Sara Brunet, of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, gave a fascinating insight into a slightly less conventional route into Human Rights. She began in a minor role without a formal legal education, but through perseverance and dedication, rose to a position where she now is able to exert her influence in shaping the law. The EHRC has somewhat unique powers from some of the other organisations, as a regulator, with inquiry powers where a systematic problem is identified.
There were many, many more speakers giving an account of their own experiences and how they got to their current positions.
The key message I took away, is that there is no one area of “Human Rights”. It covers a plethora of practice areas from court of protection work, to immigration, through to housing and welfare. Nor are the only options to be a solicitor in a firm or a barrister in chambers. There is a wealth of jobs out there, in a number of areas and organizations, but it is up to us to gain the experience and show the dedication necessary to be successful. All the speakers highlighted the necessity of getting involved in pro bono projects, volunteering, gaining internships and work experience. It is invaluable to utilise your skills (be they legal or something else entirely) in helping others, and gaining first-hand practical experience of what it is like to work in human rights organisations. Above all, we must show our commitment, enthusiasm and passion. Get involved where you can. We can still all become Human Rights Lawyers.
By Megan Finnis