‘I owe most of my career to social welfare law,’ Lady Hale tells graduating Justice First Fellows.

Lady Hale, the former president of UK Supreme Court, welcomed this year’s new crop of Justice First Fellows, saying, it is ‘so refreshing to know there are all these bright people’ wanting to become social justice lawyers. ‘Congratulations to you all. It is an honour for me to be with you. It reminds me of the importance in my own history of social welfare law. I hope it continues to be important in the history of everybody here today.’

Lady Hale described the fellowship as a ‘brilliant’ scheme, and added: ‘Social welfare law is based on the notion that the law is there for everyone. The law that matters in every day life is just as important as the law that matters most to government and big business.’

Introducing Lady Hale, who was guest of honour at the fellowship’s 2020 graduation ceremony, TLEF chairman Guy Beringer said she was ‘the perfect role model for young lawyers seeking to blaze a trail in social justice’. He added that Lady Hale had never been ‘inhibited by adversity or prejudice’.

In his welcoming speech, TLEF CEO Matthew Smerdon described the challenges some graduating fellows had overcome to pursue a legal career. ‘For some of you, it was your own personal experience of life-changing expert legal advice that led you down this path. As one of you puts it, “a social welfare lawyer saved my life”. That fact that despite additional challenges you faced, you are all here being celebrated this evening is testimony to your skills, passion and determination.’

Matthew said he would try to give the 150 guests at the ceremony in central London a flavour of the fellows’ achievements during training. ‘One fellow secured over £100,000 for clients in welfare benefit back-payments. Others have saved families from homelessness, or supported those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Across all areas of social welfare law, across all parts of the UK, day in, day out, fellows have used not just their legal skills but their empathy and compassion to build trust with clients and work with them to solve problems.’

He repeated his ‘by now familiar’ mantra: once a fellow; always a fellow. ‘Wherever your career takes you, we know you will continue to be for social justice and the rule of law. And we will continue to be your champions in that work.’

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