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Former refugee with first class law degree bids to crowdfund BPTC

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Plucky east Londoner needs £12,000 to do bar course

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A woman who came to Britain as a refugee child from war torn Africa is the latest to bid to finance a legal qualification through online crowdfunding.

Pamela Okende, a 27-year-old payment protection insurance caseworker at the Financial Services Ombudsman’s office, is aiming to raise more than £12,000 from strangers so she can take a place on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).

The mother of three launched a crowdfunding site about 10 days ago. She has raised more than £400 so far, but remains a long way shy of the required total.

Okende has a place at City University Law School in London — along with a £5,000 scholarship from the institution — to do the BPTC. She graduated with a first-class honours degree in law from London Metropolitan University three years ago and has been working for the ombudsman since 2013.

Even to have reached this far down the road to a legal qualification is an impressive feat for Okende. Her family left the central African country of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the early-1990s and sought asylum in the UK.

Raised in east London, Okende attended a local state secondary school, where her interest in law was first piqued during GCSE studies.

Despite being a stellar law student at university, her lecturers initially advised against pursuing a career as a barrister.

Initially I thought about qualifying as a solicitor,” Okende told Legal Cheek yesterday, “because at university the clear message was that the bar was not for women from my type of background. One lecturer specifically discouraged me from thinking about a career as a barrister, saying: ‘You will not see many people that look like you at the bar.’

But a stint with the charity the Free Representation Unit rekindled Okende’s interest in the bar. And last June she did a mini-pupillage at Lamb Chambers in the Temple; she has also done some marshalling at Blackfriars Crown Court.

Okende now has about a month to raise the best part of £12,000. If she does so, Okende says that her heart lies with social welfare practice areas such as housing and immigration. However, she points out that during her law degree she was very strong in contract and general commercial subjects as well.

On the crowdfunding site, Okende says:

As a woman of refugee background and a mother of three children — I am passionate to ensure that the fundamental principles of law are upheld. In whichever legal area I practice, I am determined that its principles — that none is above it, and the well-being of citizens are paramount — will be maintained.

Punters pledging £500 to her cause will be invited to Okende’s graduation party. While those contributing £1,000 or more will also get a front-row seat at her call ceremony.

Okende will be hoping her funding effort is as successful as that of Rachael Owhin. Last September, the Sussex University law graduate raised £10,000 online to partially fund a place at Oxford University to do a masters in migration studies.

Watch Okende’s crowdfunding appeal video in full below: