A Youth Commissioner’s Desire for Social Justice
There is something amazing happening in Liverpool – Courtesy of North Yorkshire Youth Commission member and Edge Hill University Law student James Porter – a Pro Bono Law Society has been set up to help vulnerable people in local communities needing legal advice. James’ initiative has been supported by an Excellence Scholarship from Edge Hill University. It sounds great and very much in keeping with James’ passion for social justice and helping people.
I met up with him over Zoom to find out more.
“We’ve just had our first big team meeting. We now have nine volunteers! We’re all Edge Hill University students. I’d say it is taking off a lot quicker than I thought! There are a few of us who are more responsible for the administrative side and then we’ve got a couple of social media guys, and we’ve now got five project leaders. StreetLaw is a universally recognised programme in which law students and also law practitioners engage with local organisations and talk about aspects of Law that effect the community. We can talk about laws around substance abuse and domestic abuse for example and also trivial stuff such as parking tickets. In my eyes, its really important to use what we know as Law students to help the local communities learn about such important things. Historically with Law and the legal profession, it was only the top 1% of earners who would have access to legal advice. We are trying to make the information easily accessible. It’s a great service because it enriches people’s lives, saves people a lot of money, a lot of time, and makes people’s livelihoods a lot better.”
“I’ve got this desire and passion for social change from my work with the North Yorkshire Youth Commission. I’ve engaged with these amazing projects and amazing people and through that I’ve been able to gain a deeper understanding and empathy in my work. I find that young people are engaged with all sorts of work for social change and this is just absolutely inspirational, they really don’t get the recognition they deserve.”
“Being a Youth Commission member has really motivated me to steer my career along a path of social change. I’ve been inspired by the work which we’ve encountered and I’ve now set myself a simple mantra for the Pro Bono Society –
“to allow students to gain empathy and an understanding for the faces behind the cases.”
“On a day to day basis at Uni, we engage with lots of case law where we learn about people and how their lives have been affected by certain situations and how there’s been some form of injustice. I’m interested in how the law is interacting with people’s lives. For example, if we’re talking about a divorce case in a textbook, you might hear about how one partner possibly married into the family to try to commit fraud or a marriage case where one partner was raped, its possible to look at it from such a two dimensional standpoint. We analyse these cases and try to translate it into real life. But really what can be forgotten is that the people that we are discussing had lives and especially in marriage cases these lives are being ripped to shreds.”
“I think, as a practitioner, and this is true for a lot of social work, you see people at their unhappiest times. You engage with people when they are destitute, you know, rock bottom in their careers or their livelihood. I feel like a lot of practitioners lack that empathy for people that they deal with. It’s such important work. As a law student, I feel we’ve got a real a duty to tap into that sort of environment and that’s what I’m aiming to do.”
“We live in a strange of consumer era and we leave people behind in some aspects of life. A lot of professions have retreated from empathy, especially the legal profession, where it’s not really about justice anymore. It’s about money. It’s about time. We get told all the time about this concept called Commercial Awareness. We can tell it’s not really about making change in society anymore. Because if you want to make it as a lawyer, or as a geographer or as a mathematician, you need to understand how business works. Sadly, you need to understand less about how you affect people’s lives, and more about how you’ll get money for you and your boss and their boss.
“I really dislike it when people advocate this massively on university campuses because they don’t seem to care about how we can help people in their lives. I find myself being steered away from that and I have to remind myself why I’m here. I’m not here to make money with mergers and acquisitions and that sort of thing. It’s about making a difference. I think starting the Pro Bono Society really will help to steer me in the right direction. Definitely. I’m so excited to learn everything out there from the opportunities that come my way.”
“After every meeting or community interaction, I sit back and I ask myself, am I actually following the philosophy that I’ve set myself. This reflection and self-evaluation can be so very important.”
Well James this sounds like such a great initiative from which a lot of people and communities will benefit. I’m sure you will learn a lot and it will be a success! You have our full support.
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