Spending time with lawyers focused on a fresh start
My day with the lawyers by Scholar Ash Rookwood….
Towards the end of 2019 Ash met staff involved in regulating solicitors as part of a training event. For Longford Blog, he reflects on the experience and what it says about rehabilitation.
The day in December when I met staff at the Solicitors Regulation Authority – the body which oversees who can and can’t be a solicitor, ensuring professional standards -was a little different from my normal routine. As a postgraduate student of Behavioural Economics, I have begun my career in the City and financial sector. I am committed to helping influence and embed positive change throughout the world, so meeting staff at the regulator seemed like a good idea – especially as they had recently reviewed their policy on applicants with a criminal conviction. I was heartened by the fact they were moving away from a one-size-fits all approach. Encouraged that they were committed to understanding more about how people make good after an offence, move on and repay second chances.
A double-act with a task….
So, what were my first impressions when I arrived at the venue in Birmingham for their away day? Everyone was friendly, keen to get to know me and what made me tick. Keen to find out about my background and circumstances of my younger life. It seemed to me that they were taking early steps in understanding someone like me and another scholar. We were a double-act, our task for the day was to tell how we had walked our path to rehabilitation.
I’m articulate and unashamedly ambitious, I’ve got my string of GCSE’s, A levels and a first class, honours degree and yes, most of them had been achieved in prison through sheer hard work and determination to make the most of my potential. Just by being in the room with the regulators, showing them that someone who has been in custody can be articulate and is frankly ‘normal’ seemed an early win. It was essential in my mind to help everyone in the room to put a face to a criminal record, show them we’re not all scary and dangerous looking. I could potentially be an applicant.
The risk/rehabilitation equation.….
What emerged is an understandable priority of risk. Risk – and limiting it- both sides played into the rehabilitation equation. Weeding out who has made good, who hasn’t and who never will. As guardians of solicitors’ professional integrity, on one level risk management must, of course, be up there. But on another level, and this is one of the reasons it was so good to have the face-to-face dialogue, it is important to develop self-awareness about the need for nuance and insight, challenging perceptions. That’s why I am so pleased myself and the other scholar were able to start an important conversation.
There was one question which took me by surprise. The gist of the questioning focused on a concern about external factors. What can be done about the public perception of applicants with a criminal record? Whilst unexpected, I was pleased they’d had a chance to air the concern. They were able to articulate their fears, they have an alternative perception of what they see on the news. All we can do is give our narrative, they can reflect and address their fears. I sincerely hope that’s what we achieved.
Lessons from Hollywood ….
On returning to my regular professional life, it brought to mind a new film “Just Mercy”, which tells the real-life story of a civil rights attorney who defends inmates on death row in Alabama who are subject to questionable convictions.
I was lucky enough to have attended an advanced showing, and subsequently meet stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Bryan Stevenson at a private dinner. Real-life lawyer Bryan Stevenson, played by Jamie Foxx – has a profound saying,
‘Each of us is more than the worst we’ve ever done’.
So true. Yet too often a criminal record from a terrible two or three seconds when someone is young becomes THE thing which defines them for life. They’ve done their time, just as I did. Most have shown remorse, as I have. They’ve been punished, rehabilitated and moved away from the guy they were seven years ago. Yet, the way our records system is at the moment it’s like asking someone what’s your worst mistake? Everyone has to know. Which is the opposite to how it works for most of us. When most people go for jobs, we are defined by what we do best.
As punishment- and its severity- becomes the running thread through current news, policies and law-making, it makes it more important than ever for someone like me with ambition, goals and wholehearted commitment to continuing a successful life sits down with decision makers. It will take a while for significant changes but I’m convinced my day with the lawyers was a game-changer. I sincerely trust that it’s a step in the right direction for all lawyers in the making.
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