Central London ceremony sees graduation of 16 Justice First Fellows, including the first barristers to qualify under TLEF’s training scheme for social welfare lawyers.

The third cohort of Justice First Fellows graduated in a special ceremony at the Law Society on 5 February 2019, bringing to 33, the total number of qualified social welfare lawyers created by the foundation’s flagship scheme.

Among the 16 lawyers graduating this year were three whose fellowships were made possible thanks to financial support from the charity BBC Children in Need. BBC CiN’s co-funding is set to continue for another two years, and in total will create 12 new specialist children’s rights lawyers. The ceremony also saw the first barrister fellows to graduate from the scheme, both of whom are specialising in family law: Harriet Dudbridge, at St John’s Chambers in Bristol; and Naima Asif, at Pump Court Chambers, in London.

TLEF board chairman Guy Beringer told the 150 guests that the fellowship scheme is one of ‘the most important and influential parts of the foundation’s work.’ Adding: ‘It is the area that gives me the most hope for the future.’

As well as creating new lawyers and supporting the social welfare organisations where they are based, the scheme also has more ambitious aims, he said. ‘We want to create a new generation of social welfare lawyers who feel supported, connected and empowered, so that the sector will have a voice; a voice that will be difficult for anyone to argue with. I hope no debate about any area of social welfare law will take place without fellows being involved. I encourage them to use that voice.’

The guest speaker, barrister and co-founder of Just for Kids Law, Shauneen Lambe, shared with the graduating fellows tips she said her younger self would have wanted to hear. These included choosing your mentors carefully and to make your own luck.

Shauneen’s mentors ranged from Clive Stafford Smith, with whom she worked on American death row cases for the charity Reprieve, ‘who told me to be of service to my clients and to be emotionally involved with them’; to restauranteur Ruth Rogers, who had taken Shauneen under her wing during a waitressing stint; to Aika Stephenson, her ‘brilliant and inspirational co-founder’ of Just for Kids Law.

Shauneen recently stood down as CEO of the charity, but said she had always depended on Aika to be ‘beside me, behind me, and usually ahead of me’.

Guests at the ceremony included fellows who had graduated in earlier years, as well as the newest intake, who took up their training posts just days or weeks earlier.

TLEF CEO Matthew Smerdon told them: ‘We know that over time fellows’ careers will evolve and change. Most will stay as social welfare lawyers, and others will apply their talents in new areas. This is something we celebrate. It means the impact of the fellowship and the values it embodies will be felt as widely as possible.’

He reiterated the foundation’s credo that ‘once a Justice First Fellow, always a Justice First Fellow’, urging them: ‘Stay in touch; enjoy being part of this movement. It is such a privilege for us to be able to support you.’

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