Carson McDowell, Northern Ireland’s largest independent law firm, has a long history of supporting a range of causes through a blend of corporate responsibility initiatives and pro-bono services, so when I joined the business in 2015 I looked forward to the opportunity to play my part.
The Lawyers in Schools programme, which introduces students to the areas of law which are most applicable to them, was the perfect opportunity for me to lend a hand to a great cause and talk about my career experiences to date.
Established in England in 1998, Lawyers in Schools has worked with over 1,000 students across the country. In early 2016 Carson McDowell engaged with the Citizenship Foundation to bring the programme to Northern Ireland for the first time. Extending Lawyers in Schools’ reach brought with it the challenge of a different legal jurisdiction but it was exciting for our company to be able to advise on the ground level, and amend the relevant worksheets, as the lead partner in the province.
I was part of a team of ten Carson McDowell solicitors who proudly delivered the inaugural workshops at Priory Integrated College in Holywood, County Down between September and December of last year.
We attended on a weekly basis to inform the students about their legal rights and responsibilities. We hope that this information will protect the students and help them to make wise decisions in areas that are most relevant to life as a teenager. The topics that we discussed included social media law, the employment rights of young people, copyright infringement/illegal downloads as well as more sensitive areas including the age of criminal responsibility and consent.
The programme allowed me to develop my communication skills further in presenting, speaking to the students and facilitating interactive training sessions.
The programme also exposes the students to the world of work in the legal sector and the skills required to succeed. We recognise the importance of role models in inspiring young people to work towards a successful future career and it was exciting to know that our work with Lawyers in Schools could also encourage the next generation of legal professionals.
The pilot programme at Priory Integrated College showed us the appetite for legal education in Northern Ireland among students and teachers, but if we are to expand the programme we need more legal professionals to get involved.
As the new school year approaches, together with the Citizenship Foundation, we are reaching out to our peers in the industry to encourage them to come on board with this exciting new programme. It is our goal to see its continued expansion in Northern Ireland.
If you are interested in getting involved, please attend the Lawyers in Schools information evening at the Law Society NI on 10th May 2017.
For more information contact Dr Anne Rice at Anne.Rice@citizenshipfoundation.org.uk.
By Anna Haines-Smyth, Carson McDowell