This week I held a focus group with two lawyers from our Travers Smith/Barclays partnership to quiz them on their thoughts about volunteering for Lawyers in Schools.
I always make myself at home when I visit the offices of our partners. The friendly receptionists show me to the room where I proceed to make myself a coffee and – on this occasion – start to think about the responses that I’m expecting. Impressively only five minutes later than the planned start time – in walks one lawyer from international and award winning law firm Travers Smith and one from Barclays – sector leaders in banking.
I start with the classic question, ‘how did you feel going to your first Lawyers in Schools session?’ ‘Excited’, ‘intrigued’, and ‘slightly anxious’ were the adjectives of the day mixed with a sense of a fear of the unknown. Many professionals (with the exception of teachers, clearly) haven’t been in a school since they were in education themselves so being unsure of what to expect is a common and expected feeling. It’s fantastic that these volunteers are willing to venture into unknown territory, step out of their comfort zone and use their skills to support young people’s legal education.
The feedback that I got from the focus group was exemplary. We often talk about the skills that students develop from Lawyers in Schools – critical thinking and speaking being two of the most common -, but we shouldn’t overlook the skills that the self-aware volunteers are developing and how these make a difference in their jobs. One of the lawyers said that his contribution in meetings has been greatly improved by his experience of facilitating discussions with a group of students. He said that he often attributes his better ability to listen and tease out information from people in meetings to Lawyers in Schools.
It was clear that these lawyers weren’t just in it for a box ticking corporate responsibility exercise. They were passionate and excited about the work they had done with the students. I sense they will remember the impacts that they made and the effects the students had on them for a long time. This is how one of the volunteers reflects on his highlight of the programme:
‘When I mentioned certain rights that people may or may not have I could see they could immediately relate it to someone they knew and it was very real whereas for us, well, we’re just used to reading it all out of books. It was the “real” aspect that will stick with me.’
What’s great about this partnership is that no one is too big to get stuck in. Travers Smith partners and senior Barclays’ lawyers are making the journey to their Tower Hamlets School and back with a fair bit of teenage facilitation in between. So what has this joint enterprise done for the relationship between Travers Smith and Barclays? ‘It’s been a very good project for working with a client’s in house team. It’s hard to think of something else that has worked so well,’ answered the Solicitor from Travers Smith. The Barclays contingent said, ‘It’s been really good for relations and it’s unique because… actually sitting down with someone from a law firm trying to teach a bunch of young people is really instructive to what sort of person they would be, what sort of lawyer they would be so it’s brilliant in that respect.’
So how would they sum up their experience of Lawyers in Schools?
‘Refreshing because it splits up the working day giving you a different level of interaction. It’s also grounding. We spend all of our time dealing with contracts with 10 zeros on the end and then we go to our school and talk to a 15 year old about a problem they might be facing that evening…’ (Volunteer, Travers Smith)
‘I enjoyed it an awful lot and selfishly it made me happy to do it. It made me feel better about my job. I always think that people should volunteer because they’re doing good rather than because they enjoy it so it’s good when something comes along that offers both.’ (Volunteer, Barclays)
I left with a warm and fuzzy feeling safe in the knowledge that we are doing great work with the help of some enthusiastic and inspirational lawyers.
With corporates – particularly banks – often getting such bad press I’m keen to stick up for their philanthropic employees who genuinely want to give something back. Our volunteers are a credit to their employers and to Lawyers in Schools.