From education to employment

Chester student and academic play a part in national Breaking Down Barriers to Law initiative

An outstanding University of Chester student and volunteer joined the head of its Law School to mark the Parliament launch of a national report aiming to help all who aspire to work in the legal profession to succeed.

Second year Law (LLB) student, Eleanor Clarke, and Associate Professor Ruth Sutton, Head of the School of Law and Social Justice, were part of the recent event held to highlight the publication of the first phase of Breaking Down Barriers to Law.

Created to boost social mobility in the legal sector, the action plan is led by the Purpose Coalition. Associate Professor Sutton has been a member of the Taskforce providing discussion and information for the plan, and Eleanor earned her place by winning a poster presentation at the University’s Unlock Your Future Student Social Capital Conference, earlier this year.

The poster on ‘My Social Capital Journey’ – reflecting on building networks, relationships, and connections to enhance opportunities – included outlines of Eleanor’s contribution as a volunteer to the Legal Advice Clinic and student-led Chester Community Law Project which both enable volunteers to use their legal knowledge to benefit the community, offering free support.

Eleanor said:

“I am so happy to have had the opportunity to attend the Breaking Down Barriers to Law event. Winning the social capital competition at the University of Chester has opened doors for me that I could never have imagined. Witnessing first-hand the commitment and efforts being made to improve social mobility within the law has been inspiring. I am proud to be a Law student at a time when such monumental changes are being advocated and implemented.”

Associate Professor Sutton added:

“I am honoured to play my part in the Taskforce and to represent the University of Chester, and the School of Law and Social Justice as a beacon for social mobility. The discussions in phase one were extremely fruitful, and we look forward to carrying on this important work cementing relationships between the HE (Higher Education) and legal sectors, breaking down barriers, and encourage more people to take a career in Law. Eleanor is a shining example of our students, and I was privileged to have her accompany me to the House of Commons for the event.”

The Breaking Down Barriers to Law report is the result of a collaborative project by the Purpose Coalition and a group of leading law firms, with university partners – including the University of Chester – providing a HE perspective. It focuses on the four key areas of outreach, access, recruitment and progression, where those from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds face the greatest barriers.

The discussions helped develop a series of recommendations for short and long-term action. In the short-term, these range from the establishment of outreach links with a network of universities, schools and colleges in social mobility ‘cold spots’ to collecting, tracking and reporting socio-economic data at every level of seniority to ensure progression is fair. In the longer term, recommendations include the development of a collective multi-channel social media campaign focusing on demystifying the legal sector and additional SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Exam) support courses and resources for apprentices, trainees and paralegals.

The launch event was held at the end of February.

Rt Hon Justine Greening, Chair of the Purpose Coalition and the UK’s former Secretary of State for Education, Transport and International Development said:

“I am incredibly proud of the work that this Breaking Down Barriers to Law Taskforce has undertaken.

“The legal sector has long been seen as a closed shop for many who might aspire to work in it. There has been undoubted progress – and the best practice featured in the report shows the difference that tailored action can make – but there is still much more to do. It’s clear that there is an appetite for change, and it is increasingly the case that those who demonstrate the most effective social impact in the legal sector and in the wider business world will attract the largest talent pool. I am looking forward to continuing to work with the Taskforce as they implement the recommendations and as we move on to the next phases of our work.”

Chair of the Breaking Down Barriers Commission and former member of the Shadow Cabinet, Nick Forbes CBE added:

“The Breaking Down Barriers to Law project, and this action plan, demonstrate the positive impact that working in partnership can bring. In a sector that is critical to the economy, this collaboration has seen a laser-like focus on the elements that are essential to creating career pathways beyond the traditional networks of the right family, school or university, if it is to open up opportunities to those from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds. I hope that it will inspire others in the legal sector, and in professional services more widely, who may be at different stages in their social mobility journey, to consider how they might also take the steps that will deliver equality of opportunity in their businesses.”

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