by Stephanie Hill – Human Rights Lawyer at Leigh Day
I’m a solicitor in the Human Rights department at Leigh Day, a claimant only law firm. Human rights can be a fascinating area of law, and if you’re looking for a rewarding and challenging career, I would highly recommend it.
The majority of my work is challenging decisions made by the Home Office, representing clients who are being unlawfully detained in immigration removal centres or applicants to the government’s Windrush Compensation Scheme. However, I also represent claimants in a wide range of judicial reviews and act for bereaved families in inquests relating to issues with mental health care. I really enjoy the mixture of work, and it’s quite common for human rights solicitors to have a caseload covering a range of different issues.
“Human rights” encompasses a wide range of areas. For example, Leigh Day’s Human Rights department includes solicitors specialising in prison law, actions against the police, mistreatment in care homes, inquests, data protection and claims by survivors of abuse. Other well-known Human Rights firms would include civil liberties, protest rights, housing law and community care under the umbrella term.
As well as being passionate about the issues, it’s also important to think about the skills involved in being a human rights solicitor. Most cases are not controversial or ground-breaking, but about trying to make a difference to an individual who has been seriously mistreated. As solicitors, our role is to guide and advise a client through a complex legal process, and building a relationship with a client can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job.
Human rights work often involves litigation, which can be exciting, but also stressful, because we have to juggle tight deadlines and busy caseloads whilst also doing the very best for each client, as the outcomes of the cases can have significant consequences for them. Thankfully, lawyers working in this area tend to be supportive, but it’s still a demanding job, with a lot of responsibility.
If you’re interested in this area, work experience and volunteering can be crucial in demonstrating your enthusiasm to future employers. Some people have ridiculously amazing CVs, and it’s easy to feel intimidated. I would encourage students to focus on a few specific opportunities where you can learn or do something useful, and not to feel you need to do something really impressive or high profile. For example, I was fortunate to do a week’s work experience with a housing solicitor in a legal aid firm, which was invaluable to me. I had a glimpse into the reality of the profession and I was given small pieces of work that assisted her and contributed to her clients’ cases.
Legal work experience isn’t the only way to get involved and if you have the time, you may be able to find longer term opportunities with local charities, advice centres, paid work as a care assistant or support worker, or volunteering at a food bank, for example.
Unlike many people reading this blog, I didn’t decide to pursue a career in law until a few years after I graduated from university. My degree was in Philosophy and I had the impression that unless you were from a certain type of background, the only way into law was by training at a corporate firm, which held no interest for me. Fortunately, I realised I was wrong, and I went to on to study the GDL and LPC part-time, whilst working full-time, and several of my colleagues have done the same.
Whilst studying the LPC, I started working as a paralegal. My first job was in a high street legal aid firm, working on extradition cases. I then moved to Leigh Day to work in the Employment department.
I was fortunate to get a training contract at Leigh Day, but I was really glad to have had experience working as a paralegal first, and I think it’s helped me in the long run.
At Leigh Day, trainees complete two one-year seats, which is quite unusual compared to the more common four six-month seat training contracts. My first seat was in the personal injury department, mostly working on mesothelioma* cases. In my second seat I worked on group claims involving product liability and consumer law.
None of these areas would be typically described as human rights but, in reality, most areas of claimant law can be very rewarding. Several of my colleagues came to the firm wanting a career in human rights before finding their real passion in clinical negligence, employment law or environmental cases.
Everyone’s career is different, but I hope it has been helpful to read about my job and my route into the law. There are hundreds of careers where you can make a difference, but what I love about my job is that our cases can achieve real, practical benefits for our clients and can help to hold the government and other public bodies to account for mistreatment of vulnerable people.
If you’re interested in the work of Leigh Day, please do look on our website and keep an eye on the careers page. Thanks for reading and good luck!
Human Rights Solicitor at Leigh Day
*Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that affects the membrane that lines certain internal organs and is thought to be caused by asbestos in over 90% of cases (more information is available here: https://www.mesothelioma.uk.com/what-is-mesothelioma)