Freshfields Selects Candidates for Scholarship Programme

International law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has selected six outstanding candidates to join the inaugural year of the Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship programme. It will initially run for three years, with the search for the class of 2014 scholars now underway.

The aim is to address the under-representation of black men from low-income households in large commercial law firms by providing an unprecedented opportunity for the selected candidates to receive practical support and guidance from Freshfields to help them secure a high-achieving career in the law.

Scholars receive a tailored personal and professional development programme focusing on written, presentation and numeracy skills and commercial awareness; interview coaching and career guidance; one-to-one mentoring; opportunities to visit the firm during university holidays; an alternative route to interview for a training contract at the firm and a £3,500 contribution towards course and associated study-related costs. Freshfields is collaborating with clients and partners, including Goldman Sachs and the Bank of England, to deliver aspects of the programme.

Freshfields’ senior partner Will Lawes said: ‘We are delighted to have found these talented and driven individuals as our inaugural scholars. The aim of the scholarship is to open doors to the legal profession for people of potential and at the same time ensure that we enrich the talent pool of candidates for positions at our firm for the long term. We are looking forward to working with each of our scholars as they embark on building a successful career in the law.’

Annette Byron, Freshfields’ social mobility partner, commented, ‘We believe that our scholarship is unique. We have drawn on innovative assessment techniques to gauge potential across many areas (rather than just academic qualifications) and will help develop our scholars into top class lawyers, while adapting our own organisational culture. We hope to make a real difference – which we define as people from different backgrounds joining, staying and succeeding with us.’

Baroness Doreen Lawrence of Clarendon, OBE says, ‘I am thrilled to be working with Freshfields to offer these six gifted candidates such a transformative opportunity at the beginning of their legal careers. My personal ambition is to help provide opportunities for people to become the best that they can be. I have met the scholars and am sure that the Freshfields Stephen Lawrence scholarship will enable them to build successful careers.’

Candidate case studies

Adel Abozaima

Adel, 20, attended the Nottingham Emmanuel School for secondary and sixth form education. He has an Egyptian heritage, and speaks, reads and writes Arabic fluently. Adel is the first within his immediate family to attend university and is currently reading law at Nottingham Trent.

Such is Adel’s drive to join the legal profession that for the past few years he has commuted once or twice a week to London to work as a trainee immigration caseworker for a boutique law firm. This has involved representing high-net-worth clients and foreign government officials at the Home Office to help them secure UK visas on a fast-track basis.

Since joining the Freshfields Stephen Lawrence scholarship, Adel has developed an ambition to specialise in Islamic finance law. Commenting on access to the legal profession, he said: ‘It is not about your background, your school or orientation. If you have the drive and courage to pursue your ambition, nothing can stop you. The City is changing, and this scholarship is the first piece of evidence of this’.

Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis, 43, from East Ham, is one of the successful students selected for The Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Scheme. He said: ‘The scholarship is life-changing – it is a dream come true. It will give me the opportunity to be a successful lawyer. I love the subject and what I am possibly able to do for other people, and I want to get young black kids interested in raising their aspirations.’

Steve left school at 16 and worked in various jobs, including as a baggage handler at London City Airport, as a mobile phone salesman, as well as working for Lloyds Bank, Land of Electricity and the Corporation of London. Aged 41, he decided to pursue his interest in the law and began a Certificate of Higher Education in Legal Methods at Birkbeck, University of London. In 2012, he started an undergraduate course in Law (LLB) at Birkbeck – London’s evening university.

As part of the application process candidates met Doreen Lawrence – the mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence – which Steve reported to be an emotional moment. He added: ‘Being a black man, Stephen’s murder especially touched a nerve with me. Londoners have grown up with what happened surrounding his death. I am determined to work hard and become a lawyer and I would like to give back to in order to broaden access.’

Steve, who is a leading member of the Ebony Steel Band based in Notting Hill, said many of the youngsters involved in the band see him as an inspiration. He added: ‘There are ways to achieve that don’t involve crime. It is not about the lack of information, but the lack of direction. Many people are saying I am an inspiration and I am encouraging them to think about studying.’

Cosmos Mutuma

Cosmos attended St James’ Catholic High School and went on to study at Cardiff University. He is in the first generation in his family to attend university.

He said: ‘The scheme has already helped me to get a better understanding of the work a commercial law firm does. I have now had first-hand experience of what it takes to work in that sort of environment. Even in this short space of time I feel have improved my skills and learnt several new ones. This is most evident in my writing and public speaking.’

Cosmos added: ‘Attending the Stephen Lawrence Legacy Ball was a particular highlight. Meeting dignitaries, celebrities and lawyers in The Dorchester Hotel was an experience I will never forget.’

Kobina Bondzi-Simpson

Kobina Bondzi-Simpson attended Kingsbury High School prior to its closure and re-opening as an academy. He is in the first generation of his family to attend university and is studying Law with Business at The University of Sussex.

He said: ‘Employment statistics for black graduates tend to discourage current and potential students. The competitiveness of the legal sector only adds to how aspiring lawyers with my background feel about their chances of success. The Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship is a promising opportunity for anyone who is discouraged.’

Kobina added: ‘Looking at everything Freshfields has organised and invested in us already, it is clear that the firm has a strong and genuine desire to solve the issue of under-representation of black people in magic circle law firms.’

Mohammed Hassan

Studying an LLB ‘Law with Politics’ degree at the University of Sussex, Mohammed Hasan, 21 said: ‘I believe this scholarship will not only serve as tool to improve social mobility within the legal sector but it will also contribute to creating successful lawyers of the future’.

Kofi Madden

Kofi is 21 years old and currently studying at the University of Central Lancashire. He lives in Preston during term time and in Stockport during university holidays.

He said: ‘Being the first member of my family to go to university makes me feel very proud. When I was nominated by my university to apply for the Freshfields Stephen Lawrence scholarship I was in disbelief that I had been chosen.’

‘The ‘Inside Freshfields’ event was an unforgettable day for me. This was the first time I had the opportunity to go to London, which I still find an amazing place to be.’

‘When Freshfields rang and told me I got the scholarship I couldn’t believe it. Since starting on the scholarship the dream of becoming a solicitor has never been closer.’

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