Meet Frances: Keep learning and empower those around you
I have read accounts of so many inspiring and courageous young lawyers on this platform, that I almost felt a sense of imposter syndrome when Ben asked me to contribute. However, I am a big supporter of new ways of connecting aspiring lawyers, in a career that is often competitive and difficult.
My name is Frances. I am a newly qualified Solicitor-Advocate.
I was initially inspired by my grandfather, a criminal defence lawyer and later a judge in South Africa. Growing up in South Africa, I was surrounded by a sense of injustice, wealth disparity and entrenched racial politics. As a child, I could not understand why a person’s wealth should determine their access to an education.
After emigrating to the UK, my first experience of the law as a tool for change was during a trip to the Model United Nations Conference in Haileybury. My team was the human rights division. I drafted some proposals for legislation and policies and was required to present them to a large room of delegates. It was my first experience of public speaking and drafting legislation, and needless to say I wasn’t very good. In fact I was awful. A majority of the delegates did not vote for my paper and in a rosy-cheeked fluster, I quickly climbed off the stage. In a sense I had failed, but I had a taste for it and in the words of a beloved author Elizabeth Day, I had learned how to succeed better.
I went on to study Philosophy at Bristol, and after specialising in ethics and moral philosophy, I decided (after a year working on farms in Africa) to commit to the GDL. I was thrown into my studies again and I never looked back.
The best thing I did during my legal studies was to get involved in as many ProBono initiatives as I could. My favourite one involved doing presentations on the law to students in Young Offenders Institutes. Most of them knew criminal law better than us at that stage, and I recognised that so many of them had trauma or poverty in their pasts and deserved a fairer criminal justice system.
Since then, I have trained with AMICUS, volunteered with NGOs abroad, worked as a Paralegal at the largest charitable foundation, all before securing a Training Contract at a specialist Charity law firm. I struggled, as many paralegals do to secure a Training Contract and dealing with rejection knocked my confidence. Eventually, as it is, something pulled through and I secured a role at a specialist charity law firm. This was a game-changer. I was given a huge amount of responsibility, and I would choose a training contract at a small firm over a large city firm any day. I was attending court as instructing solicitor and managed to take my higher rights of audience and qualify as an Advocate.
My words of advice may be cliché but they are two-fold: Number (1) be open to always learning – get involved in projects, volunteer with CAB or a local authority, or get involved with something totally outside of the law in your free time, like a foodbank or a new hobby. Consider the soft skills you want to develop and then make a route to getting there. If you want to develop your skills as public speaker, perhaps a stand-up comedy course, or a customer service role. The skills that have been most useful in my legal career were not learned doing anything legal, but instead from a Mediation course I did in 2015.
Number (2) Integrity is everything. I’m sure, being in the law you’ve heard that one rattled off a few times. But by this, I mean – ‘pay it back’. I am reminded of the phrase ‘empowered women empower women’ and it should be the same with legal profession. Get involved in mentoring if you can, and as you move from student, to paralegal to trainee or Legal Exec, remember to give a hand to those on the path behind you. Equal access to a legal career has been perennial issue and sees little sign of improving as the competition for training contracts is fiercer than ever. Unless we all work together, we will not get any closer to ensuring we have a diverse profession, and in time a judiciary which is representative of society. (And, I guarantee that by helping others out - you will feel good, and probably learn something about yourself.)
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/frances-clark-ba0b14a7/ Instagram: @franciehere and @jlawyers4justice @francie_yoga