Being in the law clinic alongside the diploma

(Haarisa Akram, Student Advisor)

Student Advisor, Haarisa Akram, talks about her experience of being in the clinic alongside the Diploma. This was Haarisa’s first and only year in the clinic and Haarisa talks about how to make the most of the limited time in the Clinic for those who only join in their Diploma year, and how worthwhile the experience is even though it may only be a year.  

I started studying the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Strathclyde in September 2021 after completing my LLB at Edinburgh Napier University. Shortly after, in October 2021, I became a Student Advisor for the Law Clinic and felt sharing my experience may be useful for others.

I had decided to join the Law Clinic because I had spent the last two years (the most important years even) of the LLB taking classes online. Although I was ecstatic to have finished my undergraduate, I felt slightly disappointed that I was not able to make the most of University life due to the pandemic. Therefore, I had promised myself that when I started the Diploma, I would make the most of the experience. I really wanted to build on my own skills and knowledge, whilst making a difference to the lives of others and the Law Clinic seemed like the perfect place to do that. In the short time that I have been a student advisor, I have had the chance to take part in such a variety of tasks. It is experience I would have struggled to find elsewhere and it is definitely a rewarding role.

Within my first few weeks, I was able to participate in an Initial Advice Clinic. I found the IACs to be a great starting point for a new advisor, as it was a useful opportunity to shadow an experienced advisor lead a meeting with a client and a qualified solicitor give the appropriate advice. I have been able to join IACs involving the likes of employment law, housing issues and personal injury matters. I would definitely recommend signing up for these to anyone who is just starting out at the Clinic. I, myself, was very nervous and doubted I had the skills to take part. The only way I was able to get over that feeling was to just go for it and the IACs were the perfect way to get familiar with the process as an inexperienced advisor before leading a session as an experienced advisor.

I was thoroughly enjoying my role as a Student Advisor and had decided to pick the Work Based Learning elective with the Law Clinic for my second semester of Diploma. I felt it would help me balance clinic work with my university timetable and I would be able to continue with my responsibility to assist in providing access to justice in Glasgow and surrounding areas. I would highly recommend carrying out Work Based Learning with the Law Clinic to anyone who is considering doing their Diploma, as it has changed my perspective as a future solicitor and made me more familiar with working in a legal environment. I would also advise that the elective only pays off where you are committed to meeting learning objectives and playing an active role within the working environment, so it is important that you are really looking to learn whilst making a difference! Doing the elective as part of my semester would mean I was able to continue with my commitment to make the most of the Diploma year and I absolutely feel this was the right choice.

The Law Clinic is so busy as it is such a valuable lifeline to many individuals and vulnerable groups. Due to this, it is unlikely that clinic work will fall into your lap. I have found that the best way to make the most your time and become involved as quickly as possible is to be as proactive as possible. Everyone involved is always happy to help and I found reaching out to supervisors, student directors and my firm co-ordinator to be the best way to make myself known and available for work. For example, I had contacted my supervisor about any ongoing opportunities. From this, I was able to join on to an existing case which needed a second representative at an Employment Tribunal Preliminary Hearing. This was my first time representing a client and I enjoyed the chance to work with my co-advisor, Melissa. From this single hearing, I have learned so much about court preparation and procedure.

I can absolutely say that joining the Law Clinic was a great decision. I feel so privileged to be a part of it and am constantly learning in such a short time period. To anyone considering joining, I can 100% advocate that it will strengthen your skills whilst you make a bigger impact in the community. Regardless of where you are in terms of your education, the Law Clinic staff and members appreciate any and all time you can put in. You will be inspired, appreciated and best of all, have fun!

By Haarisa Akram, Student Advisor

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IWD POST – GILLIAN MELVILLE

In this mini-series of posts, the women of the clinic discuss the theme of ‘Break the Bias’, what this means to them, what International Women’s Day means to them, and experience they have that resonates with this year’s theme.

When I first received a request to write something about a time when I had experienced discrimination or been stereotyped, I thought I didn’t have anything suitable to write about- but when I was able to turn my mind to it for more then 5 minutes, I realized I had enough to fill a few pages! All the same it was interesting to me that I felt some hesitation or even resentment at first at being asked to write about these experiences. I think this is because I don’t want to be a separate oppressed class of humanity, I want just to be myself. But I imagine this is how every group who is discriminated against feels- no one wants to be in this box but are placed there by external perceptions and attitudes.

As we heard at our excellent immigration law training yesterday by Sue Conlan, for the purposes of asylum women are identified as a ‘particular social group’ that can be at heightened risk of discrimination and ill treatment. This means that half of all humans are classified as a ‘particular social group.’ To me, this is an example of Simone De Beauvoir’s assessment that women are deemed to deviate from the perceived norm of ‘male’, despite being half the global population.

For me, the gender fluidity movement, if it can be called that, is welcome as it gives people scope to become themselves whilst still recognizing the social groups to which they belong may result in discrimination against them. The discrimination is because of the perception of those social groups by others, not because those social groups have intrinsic characteristics that are ascribed to them (although many in those groups may have those characteristics).

Personally, I have experienced in some workplaces repeated questioning about my decision to not have a family or get married. This has come from both male and female colleagues. The comments could have come straight out of The Office: ‘Get a ring on your finger’, ‘No one likes an old bride’(!), and ‘When are you going to have children?’. These comments feel oppressive because they are based on limited assumptions about an individual wants and needs due to their belonging to a particular social group, rather than taking that individual at face value.  Not being known, understood or accepted for who you are is one of the most frustrating experiences because it feels like a refusal to see what makes you you.

There are other things I could write about, but it is important to recognize the very many positive developments that have occurred for women in the profession, and the respect and esteem in which many women are held. I have been very fortunate to work with my female colleagues at the law clinic, who are not only extremely good at what they do but do it every day with grace and compassion. There is something very special at the law clinic of which I feel privileged to be a part, and our student advisers, of all genders, are inspiring to work with and give us all hope for the future of the profession.

So to everyone, happy international women’s day/week/month!

By Gillian Melville, Clinic Supervisor

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IWD POST – REBECCA DYER

(Rebecca Dyer, Student Director and Student Advisor)

In this mini-series of posts, the women of the clinic discuss the theme of ‘Break the Bias’, what this means to them, what International Women’s Day means to them, and experience they have that resonates with this year’s theme.

A happy International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month to everyone! Personally, International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month allows me to celebrate all women, remember our monumental journey, as well as being inspired by and celebrating all women who have fought for women’s rights around the world. It is also a time for me to remember that, while we have come so far, there is still so much more that needs to be changed.

I have been incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to have experienced many different things in life, such as living in the Middle East, travelling and being able to try new skills and sports. I am forever grateful to be surrounded by a very supportive network of family, friends, work colleagues, mentors and tutors who always encourage me to reach my goals and aspirations.

However, like all women, I have experienced bias because of my gender from a young age. This bias that I have experienced takes the form of harassment, misogyny, sexism, prejudice, and discrimination, and they have occurred while I have been working, while I have been out with my friends and family, while I have been sitting in a coffee shop, while I have been training in the gym, and while I have been walking down the street. When I first started to experience being undermined, undervalued, and objectified because of my gender, the realisation of what occurred did not happen until the hours, or days afterwards. I would get angry and would tell myself that the next time I had another experience, that I would speak up and demand the respect I deserved. Eventually, as I got older and more confident, I was able to do this, and with a womanly superiority too, if I do not say so myself! In doing this, I am always reminded by Maya Angelou’s quote:

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

It makes me sad that these experiences signify some of what all women have to endure on a daily basis, and for minority ethnic woman, disabled women, trans women and lesbians, the impact of such bias is exacerbated. Some women also face domestic violence and sexual abuse. Although, with that sadness, comes determination and motivation to strive and fight for change: we must break the bias to ensure equality for all women and girls, and breaking the bias must mean a complete eradication of misogyny, prejudice, discrimination, outdated gender stereotypes and sexism, or it will mean nothing.

In striving to break the bias, we must acknowledge that the bias we seek to break is deep-rooted in society. We must also acknowledge the historic and contemporary injustices against all women. This is an integral part of urging society to change its attitudes and culture towards all women. Historically, for me, I am constantly reminded of the suffering of many women who were convicted and executed under the Witchcraft Acts just for being women, as I drive over the symbolic Horseshoe Memorial in Paisley almost every day. Contemporarily, I am reminded that the same form of bias against women which was the direct cause for many executions under the now abolished Witchcraft Acts, still remains significant in today’s society. My friends and I often find ourselves talking about our struggles as women and being subjected to same underlying misogyny.

These engrained societal attitudes towards women have resulted in systematic underrepresentation, particularly in workplaces and in more senior roles. These attitudes have also resulted in women being undervalued and having their contributions to society being undervalued (for example, as of 2022, women lawyers are paid 21% less than men lawyers in Scotland). Moreover, these attitudes have left all women living in fear of harassment, abuse, domestic violence, sexual violence, and murder. All women should not have to endure this or adapt their behaviours for protection, and these attitudes should have absolutely no place in society. Why? Because Women’s Rights are Human Rights!

We must also acknowledge and celebrate our progress as a gender, too. The steady increase of women in more senior roles in politics, business, as well as authors, poets and increased activism has allowed society to hear us. Law reforms such as free period products and reforms on domestic abuse have also advanced our rights as women. To all women past and present who have paved the way for progress and further change, I thank you. Thanks to you, we are taking the important steps towards being treated equally without bias, and that glass ceiling has more cracks on it than ever.

However, there is still work to do, as better representation is not equal representation. As women, both individually and collectively, we need to continue to assert our rights and strive for change because we must (and I mean, everyone in society) build a society where all women feel safe and can be themselves, as well as having no limits in living our lives. A society where all women do not feel safe, do not have equal pay, and do not have equal opportunities, is not one in which everyone is equal. Society cannot allow these injustices to continue on to the next generation, and so we must use the power of the law to drive the social and cultural changes us women so deservedly need. As Gloria Steinem said:

“One of the simplest paths to deep change is for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak.”

And so, my final statement is this:

Women do not need to change, society does.

Women do not need to listen, society does.

Women do not need to unlearn behaviour, society does

Women’s Rights are Human Rights, and there is nothing that will stop us from fighting for what we deserve.

By Rebecca Dyer, Student Director and Student Advisor.

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IWD Post – Sasha Akavikis

(Sasha Akavicis, Student Advisor and Elected Member)

In this mini-series of posts, the women of the clinic discuss the theme of ‘Break the Bias’, what this means to them, what International Women’s Day means to them, and experience they have that resonates with this year’s theme.

From a young age I was involved in competitive Gymnastics, during my time in the sport I was pretty sheltered from any gender biases as Gymnastics is largely dominated by female athletes. I feel being surrounded by such talented, confidence women from a young age has shaped the person I am today. As a result of being involved in the sport I developed confidence in myself, and my abilities and I have learned to always have faith in myself because if I don’t believe in myself then who will.

However, I feel this environment somewhat shielded me from the gender bias that still exists in sport, and it wasn’t until I left the Gymnastics world that for the first time, I was exposed to this.

Upon starting University, I felt overwhelmed and lost without a hobby to distract me from the stresses of course work and to give me something to do which I enjoyed in my free time, this was also the first time since quitting Gymnastics that I felt lost without the constant training and competitions. I decided to join a gym, mainly with the intention of getting fit and staying healthy alongside my studies. This helped me to work out a good work life balance as I always make sure I’ve planned and completed my university work in enough time each day to ensure I make time for working out. However, as I got more involved in the gym and began taking it more seriously, I began to experience for the first-time gender biases that still exist within sport.

I decided to move out of my comfort zone and move from the cardio section of the gym to the weights section, and I loved it, I felt so motivated and confident, and could not wait to progress and work towards my goals. However, when I started telling people about my decision to take weight training more seriously, I was taken aback by the comments I received. I can’t count the number of times I was told ‘why do you want to do that, you’re a woman, that’s for men’ or ‘why do you want to do that you’ll look too bulky like a man’. This infuriated me, there is nothing wrong with women lifting weights and training hard in the gym, it takes a lot of motivation, drive, and effort to consistently put in the training that is required. I have met some of the most strong, confident, and inspiring women through training at the gym and I feel so many young women may be put off lifting weights as to ‘not look bulky’ or ‘manly’. Part of me felt like maybe they were right, maybe this type of exercise wasn’t for me, after all I had been a gymnast for so long, maybe I would find something more suited to me to keep me busy alongside university. Unsurprisingly, these thoughts never lasted long, I love being in the gym, the confidence and motivation working out gives me is not something I was ready to give up over some sexist remarks from ignorant individuals.

So, I kept turning up. I kept working out. I kept pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I pushed past the biases and kept doing what I loved for me because at the end of the day that’s all that matters. Now, 5 months or so later of consistent training I can lift 1.5x my bodyweight which I never thought I’d be able to do, and it makes me extremely proud of myself to know that I pushed past biases and persevered to do what was best for myself, when I could easily have given up and let ‘the men do the lifting’.

I cannot wait for the next weeks, months, years to see my progress and hopefully I will be able to continue to ‘break the bias’ within not only a fitness setting but more widely in my everyday life.

By Sasha Akavicis, Student Advisor and Elected Member

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IWD POST – NATALIE MARSHALL

(Natalie Marshall, Student Advisor and Elected Member)

In this mini-series of posts, the women of the clinic discuss the theme of ‘Break the Bias’, what this means to them, what International Women’s Day means to them, and experience they have that resonates with this year’s theme.

Growing up in a supportive household, I’ve always been encouraged to aim high in all aspects of my life, because I could achieve whatever I set my mind to. Throughout secondary school, I knew I longed for a career in the legal sector. At that current stage of my life, I was aiming for a career as a Police Officer, traditionally a male dominated career. People around me would often ask what kind of job I would want to do after school, when I answered with my ambitions to join Police Scotland, people would often look surprised, and I received a comment often by  “Are you sure you’ll be strong enough to handle yourself?”. At the time this did not phase me as I knew what I wanted to aim towards.

Fast forwarding a few years to starting the first year of my LLB in Scots Law at Strathclyde, my career goals had changed, and I was now working towards a goal of being a Solicitor. One particular day I was asked by a colleague what I studied at university, when I responded and told them I was doing Law, they looked shocked. This is generally not a big deal, however, when a male colleague said he also studied law the responses were always positive and encouraging. Females are becoming increasingly present in the legal world and as a result have transformed and continue to transform, the world socially and politically. This is something I am proud to be part of and hope to also encourage other women to do the same.

By Natalie Marshall, Student Advisor and Elected Member

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IWD POST – KATHLEEN BOLT

In this mini-series of posts, the women of the clinic discuss the theme of ‘Break the Bias’, what this means to them, what International Women’s Day means to them, and experience they have that resonates with this year’s theme.

Looking back I have discovered that I was first enrolled as a solicitor in 1991. That seems like a very long time ago. I had no qualms about entering the legal profession as a women but myself and other women law students set up a small network called the Women’s Feminist Legal network. We were mainly graduate entry students who supported each other and arranged discussions and talks with other women in the profession. Few women had made it to the bench as Sheriffs and Judges at that time and were grossly unrepresented at partner level. We all revered women such as Helena Kennedy who had both broken her way up the ranks in the legal profession but also was a woman of principal who was not scared to look at law from a feminist perspective. We wanted to be women in the profession, but we did not want to have to ‘act like men’ to ‘fit in’. We looked up to women lawyers in Edinburgh who had committed to working in the areas of matrimonial law and domestic violence and who understood the issues women faced.

The number of women in the profession and the positions they hold at all levels has improved markedly since I first started practising. I could not then have envisaged by any stretch of the imagination Amanda Miller being elected as the first openly LGBTQ woman President of the Law Society. We did not even wear trousers when we first appeared in the Courts! Mundane as that is perhaps it is important to remember how far we have come and all the little barriers that had to be broken and the things that had to change through the acts of individual women and men for Amanda to forge her way to that position. And forge she must have. There can be no underestimating the value of positive role models such as Amanda in creating an inclusive profession.

Many of the issues have not gone away and so women need to continue to support each other to be the lawyers that they want to be, to create the opportunities that they seek and to contribute to a workplace culture that is based on values of collaboration, support and encouragement.

By Kathleen Bolt, Clinic Supervisor

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IWD Post – CAITLIN DALY

(Caitlin Daly, Student Advisor)

In this mini-series of posts, the women of the clinic discuss the theme of ‘Break the Bias’, what this means to them, what International Women’s Day means to them, and experience they have that resonates with this year’s theme.

I am lucky to have a wide group of women in my life who all support myself and each other. I feel grateful to have a strong circle around me and I realise that not every woman has this. It is important for me to create an environment where other women feel empowered and commended for who they are and who they want to be. However, it is not just the duty of women to break this bias but the active participation of men supporting us in this endeavour goes a long way.

For me, breaking the bias means to consistently question and challenge norms that I have been brought up with. Through reflecting on International Women’s Day, I realise that I have previously accepted stereotypes and bias that was imposed on me by society. Nowadays, I actively take responsibility for being a powerful leader and role model, namely for my two younger female cousins. I hope that they feel comfortable enough to communicate their bold opinions and strong feelings and to be recognised as: assertive, headstrong and inspiring. More importantly, I hope that they will understand their capabilities and that so long as they work hard, they can achieve their greatest ambitions.

As part of breaking the bias, we should all try to understand what else we can do to make a more equal society a reality for women here today and the next generations to come.

By Caitlin Daly, Student Advisor

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IWD POST – LAURA NICOL

(Laura Nicol, Student Advisor and Communications Officer)

In this mini-series of posts, the women of the clinic discuss the theme of ‘Break the Bias’, what this means to them, what International Women’s Day means to them, and experience they have that resonates with this year’s theme.

I volunteer at a boxing gym, and I have a “pro licence” meaning I can go in the corners at professional shows doing all the glamorous things like rinsing gumshields and wiping blood away. I boxed from the age of 13 to 18 so I have grown up in the boxing world where females have always been in the minority. I was always proud to “break the bias”, surprise people when I told them that I boxed, and I still do. In my own gym, stereotyping went out the window soon after my sister and I joined the club as the first female members. We made it our mission to prove we were no different to the boys, and all the guys at the gym accepted this pretty quickly and now they don’t think twice about the fact that I am the only girl there.

Admittedly, it is not always like that, and I have been stereotyped before. I don’t usually mind as it gives you an element of surprise when you turn out to actually know what you are talking about but there was one experience in particular that took me back.

When you go for your pro licence, you need to go for an interview. In my case, this was sitting in front of three men aged 45+. They were nice, asked me why I was interested in being a pro coach, talked about my experience and background in boxing, one of them said they even recognised me from when I used to box. However, towards the end of the interview the man in the middle started off a question with “I don’t really know how to phrase this” (red flag), before going on to ask “as a woman, how would a feel about the loud and rowdy atmosphere of a boxing show”. I was stunned. We had been talking about my background in boxing for the last 10 minutes yet that seems to be disregarded and the only fact that stuck out to him that I was going to be a woman in a “rowdy” atmosphere, and oh my, how would I ever cope? (🤦🏻‍♀️ 🤦🏻‍♀️ 🤦🏻‍♀️)

I only let out a dry laugh before saying “yeah, I think I’ll be fine”. I am sad to say I didn’t say something more quick or forward thinking like “would you have asked a man that” or “if you had to think that hard to ask the question you probably shouldn’t have asked it”. I know they didn’t mean any harm, but that isn’t really the point, is it?

So now I am a female pro coach. Female boxers and overall female presence in boxing are becoming more and more prominent and it is something that I am proud to be a part of alongside my studies and work at the Law Clinic.

By Laura Nicol, Student Advisor and Communications Officer

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IWD POST – Erin Connor

(Erin Connor, Student Advisor and SWRC Coordinator, ft. Erin’s dog, Bailey)

In this mini-series of posts, the women of the clinic discuss the theme of ‘Break the Bias’, what this means to them, what International Women’s Day means to them, and experience they have that resonates with this year’s theme.

Growing up surrounded by strong women, I never doubted that I could be anything I wanted to be. It was instilled in me from an early age that there was nothing that boys could do that I couldn’t, and this gave me the confidence to pursue any path I desired.

However, this is not the same for all girls. There is a famous quote that, “you can’t be what you can’t see”. This means that for young girls growing up in a patriarchal society, with few female role models, it is difficult to have the confidence to break the bias and the glass ceiling. For these girls, International Women’s Day is so important to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and to campaign for a gender equal world.

A particularly common issue that young girls face is being labelled with negative terminology when striving for leadership positions. Even as young as primary school, I remember facing bias. I wanted to be the group leader of a project and for that was called “bossy”. Conversely, the leader of the other group, a boy, was applauded for his “leadership qualities” for taking charge. The differing words used to describe ambitious boys and girls reinforces the narrative that confidence and ambition are unattractive qualities in women, who should remember their place and not aim too high.

Having now completed my law degree and (almost) diploma, I am now ready to embark on my traineeship and make my way in an industry where women are underrepresented in positions of authority and leadership. I am also privileged to be part of and lead a team of student volunteers to the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, an organisation that supports vulnerable women every day. I know that I would not be where I am if it were not for the support of the women around me, my friends, family and tutors who I have looked up to. This exemplifies one of my favourite quotes “empowered women, empower women”. We must remember that we are each others greatest allies and not each others competition!

To the girls called “bossy”, keep being leaders. To the girls called “emotional”, keep being passionate. To the girls called “aggressive”, keep being confident!

By Erin Connor, Student Advisor and SWRC Coordinator

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IWD Post – Kathleen Laverty

In this mini-series of posts, the women of the clinic discuss the theme of ‘Break the Bias’, what this means to them, what International Women’s Day means to them, and experience they have that resonates with this year’s theme.

A very happy International Women’s Day to all our members. Looking back on my career I was very fortunate to have a supportive, encouraging and fun all female launch pad. My traineeship was with a small sole practitioner practice with a woman at the helm who had only recently set up her practice all the while juggling the responsibility and workload of four young children on her own. All the other staff were also women.  My first high court experience was with a female advocate who was inspiring. Since then the majority of my bosses have been women who were excellent in their field, eager to share their knowledge and experience and good roles models.  But I didn’t have to cast my gaze very wide to notice that it was mostly men in charge. The majority of judges were men, the sheriff court common room was not somewhere I felt I belonged, men were in the majority when looking at partners in the bigger firms. While these figures have improved in the past 40 years much work remains to be done to achieve equality.  Only 26% of judges in the supreme court are women and 22% of sheriffs are women. Until the judiciary reflects our population our justice system will not operate as it should and this refers not only to gender but race, disability, class and other identities suffering discrimination.

My first experience of bias in a legal role took place very early in my career. The appointment with this client was the shortest one I ever experienced. He came for advice about his upcoming criminal trial. He was in his seat for less than a minute when he said “I wasn’t expecting to see a lassie”. He then walked out without waiting for a reply – maybe just as well! You can imagine the many retorts I dreamed up if only I’d had the chance! He probably made the right choice as I was very inexperienced at the time, but for the wrong reasons!

I now work with a fantastic team of women and with many fantastic promising students who value equality and will continue to change the legal landscape for the better. So for me International Women’s Day is about celebrating women’s achievements across the globe, thanking those who have worked so hard to break the bias so far and encouraging those who continue their work in breaking the bias for the future benefit of us all.

On International Women’s Day we also have to turn our minds to the women of Ukraine facing the fear and violence that war brings. This affects women protecting themselves, their children and loved ones, those on the front line alongside or as part of the army and those subject to sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Bt Kathleen Laverty, Clinic Director

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