From trainee solicitor to pro bono manager

Becca Naylor’s passion for human rights has led her to a dream job with Reed Smith

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“It was too good an opportunity to pass by,” says Rebecca Naylor. “I’ve always had a passion for human rights. I couldn’t ignore the chance to work in the sector.”

Rebecca — or Becca, as she is known — is referring to a role that came her way while she was still a trainee with Reed Smith: being the firm’s pro bono manager for Europe, the Middle East and Asia (EMEA).

“The job was advertised internally, after my predecessor left in 2015,” says Becca. “I realised it was what I wanted to do.” Becca followed her passion, applied for the job, and got it — a result that both delighted her, and made for a tough second year as a Reed Smith trainee.

“I started as pro bono manager while I was still a trainee, meaning, in effect, that I had two jobs for a year,” she explains. “But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I have no regrets, and love every minute of the job.”

Becca started as Reed Smith’s pro bono manager, EMEA, in March 2015, qualifying as a solicitor and becoming an associate a year later, in February 2016. Since then, she has continued to practise as a solicitor, but the bulk of her work is in managing the firm’s EMEA pro bono activities. “I’d say the split is 80% pro bono work, 20% legal work,” she says. “It’s just right for me — I maintain my skillset as a solicitor, but enjoy a huge variety of work in human rights and pro bono, which have always fascinated me.”

Brought up in Haslemere, Surrey, Becca attended Marlborough College and excelled in her A-levels, with four A grades in history, latin, maths and further maths. She graduated with an LLB from Cambridge University in 2012, but before embarking on the hard graft of a law degree decided to see the world. “I worked in my local Wetherspoons to save some money, then travelled to Bangladesh, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and the United States,” she says. The highlight was New Zealand: “It’s so beautiful — and so relaxed and welcoming,” says Becca.

Back in the UK, Becca completed the LPC with BPP Law School. Then came volunteer work that was to crystallise an interest in human rights that was first kindled when she was a teenager:

I worked for four months as a volunteer with Reprieve, the non-profit organisation that focuses on fighting the death penalty. I was inspired to work there by Nick Yarris, a former death row prisoner who gave a talk at Marlborough. He went on to write an incredible book about his experience of being on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, called Seven Days to Live.

Inspired by Yarris, Becca went to “just about every talk going” by Clive Stafford Smith, the human rights lawyer who founded Reprieve in 1999 (a year after the death penalty was officially abolished in the UK). While at Reprieve, Becca’s volunteer work was in the Abuses in Counter Terrorism team, assisting clients in Guantanamo Bay, people in torture and rendition cases, and drone strike victims. She then added to this experience by working for British civil liberties and human rights campaign group Liberty.

“This was a three-month role,” says Becca, “lasting from September 2014 to December 2014. I worked in the Advice and Information team providing free legal advice to the public.”

February 2014 saw Becca start as a trainee with Reed Smith. To fast forward to today, she now manages pro bono work across 12 EMEA offices, reporting to Michael Skrein, the firm’s EMEA pro bono partner. “I love the work,” says Becca, continuing:

There are always so many different things going on, whether we’re working with charities who’d like us to get involved with what they do, or existing pro bono clients, or giving talks and presentations or getting involved on the ground. No one day is ever the same.

Becca’s work at Reed Smith has focused on death penalty cases and an FGM awareness project, as well as refugee work in Greece. “I spent three weeks as part of a Reed Smith team on Lesbos, counselling and supporting refugees,” she says. “We were also providing free legal advice and supporting local lawyers.”

Becca says the experience was “amazing – we were in the camp each day from 9am to 5pm, working under direct sunlight in 36C degree heat. It was tough but rewarding.” And more recently, she’s been helping set up a domestic violence advice centre in Bethnal Green. “It’s great to do things closer to home, in the local community,” says Becca.

Whether it’s human rights in Bethnal Green, Greece, or somewhere else entirely, you get the feeling that Becca Naylor will be involved — and that’s just the way she likes it.

This week is National Pro Bono Week. Find out more about what’s going on here.