Last week 150 sixth-formers congregated at the University of Warwick to attend the first-ever Pathways to Law National Conference.
It marked the end of a 12-month programme of events, run by education charity the Sutton Trust and the College of Law, to encourage non-privileged students to study law at university. Lawyer 2B, The Lawyer’s student magazine and website, was given exclusive access to the three-day conference.
College of Law senior academic registrar Richard de Friend says: “We’ve always supported diversity and access into the legal profession, and it seemed Pathways was the best way to achieve this goal.”
The college has pledged to contribute a whopping £1.25m to the programme over the next five years. Also, as first reported in The Lawyer last November, Allen & Overy, DLA Piper, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Lovells also threw their weight behind the Pathways scheme.
The five top firms pledged £350,000 to support the programme and will each offer 50 work experience placements a year for the next five years. Since then, Eversheds and Simmons & Simmons have also vowed to provide financial support to the diversity initiative.
Pathways is aimed at students from state schools who will be the first in their family to go on to higher education and who have expressed an interest in law. The youngsters are selected by the five partner universities (Leeds, London School of Economics, Manchester, Southampton and Warwick) after their GCSE year and participate in the programme for the duration of their A levels, during which time they will attend workshops, participate in work placements and get teamed up with mentors.
De Friend says: “Pathways is aimed at students who could do with some encouragement and guidance be able to compete for places on law degrees at the top UK universities. That said, we’re very conscious that we don’t raise expectations that cannot be met.”
At the conference students took part in a competition that saw them make presentations on law-related topics, including the debate on 42-day detention, the role of the United Nations in resolving the crisis in Zimbabwe and freedom of speech.
“The quality of the presentations was excellent and demonstrated how far the students had progressed in their first year of participating in Pathways and indeed during the Warwick conference,” says Pathways project manager Phil Moss.
The winning presentation focused on national security versus civil liberties and drew inspiration from the Channel 4 show Big Brother. The judges also praised the groups that delivered moving presentations on the death penalty and the worrying rise in knife crime.
The competition was followed by a formal meal, which enabled students to meet law firm delegates and hone their networking skills, and then a disco. A strict curfew, however, was in operation, with students expected to be in bed by 11.30pm. Lawyer 2B was pleased to be exempted from the curfew and, as one would expect, was the last person standing alongside the college’s chief executive Nigel Savage.