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The disconnect between the legal profession and school children is a hindrance to diversity, argues Adam Fellows

Earlier this year, I spent a day going from school to school in Cambridge giving talks to children about protecting their personal information online. Considering I know I wouldn’t make a good teacher, I really enjoyed doing my bit on ‘Data Protection Day’, and would thoroughly recommend that type of pro bono work to other aspiring lawyers as ‘Data Protection Day’ 2012 approaches. I found talking about the law to other people and explaining the intricacies of it really helped to solidify my own understanding.

As part of the talk I gave, I asked if anyone had any questions about the law as a career, and specifically the Bar. I wasn’t quite expecting the reactions I received.

At the secondary school, where the kids were getting ready for GCSEs and were definitely thinking about their futures, there were no questions at the end of the talk about becoming a lawyer. None whatsoever. This really threw me. Even the kids who had seemed interested in the talk didn’t come forward and ask anything.

At the primary school, it was a wholly different story. All of them had questions about being a lawyer and a barrister, and were disappointed I didn’t have a wig and gown to show them.

Not understanding children very well (I was one, but such a long time ago), I decided to ask the teacher why this was, contrasting my experience with the secondary school. Her response seemed simple enough: perception.

Law as a career path simply didn’t appear accessible to the secondary school children I spoke to, she suggested. In my first post for Legal Cheek, I wrote about my worries about becoming a barrister, and it appears that very little has changed in the intervening years. For those at primary school, the world is still fresh and exciting, and most importantly all things are still possible. At secondary school, there is a realisation that some aspirations will never be realised.

I was lucky. I have parents who have supported me in my choices, not financially but with encouragement. I had teachers and lecturers who kept me going when the work seemed like too much. I had friends who were there to listen on those days when I was overwhelmed.

Diversity is still a buzzword in the legal profession, as pointed out in an earlier post by LegalAware. Maybe this diversity could be attained if we not only talked to these school kids, but listened as well.

Adam Fellows is a non-practising barrister, called by the Inner Temple in July 2011, who wants to specialise in public and media law. He currently works as a legal researcher.

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