Access to the Legal Profession Matters.

Please take a few moments to read this inspiring blog written by Jamie McGowan who won the Scullion LAW 2013 Interschool Debating Cup and is now on the road to qualifying as a solicitor. As a child in foster care, he says the idea of becoming a lawyer one day was ‘unthinkable’. Little did he know, that winning the debate  would be the beginning of his legal career. 

 

The importance of Access to the Legal Profession cannot be emphasised enough.

It often seems that the most obvious barrier to the profession these days is economic; the costs involved with legal education are enormous, particularly concerning the costs of the Diploma in Legal Practice. But across the board a lot of social barriers also remain. Even today, one’s own background can be prohibitive for any young person who might be considering law as a career. In my case, I was a child in foster care. It was unthinkable that I might become a lawyer one day. However, with the support of my family, some supportive professors, and a certain local law firm, I am now stumbling along the road to qualifying as a solicitor.

I was taken into care when I was five years old. Life as a child in care can be very difficult even for the ‘easier cases’; the stress of family separation coupled with having to fend for oneself at an early age can create all sorts of mental health issues and complexes. The most prominent issue, in my experience, is how being in care can affect self-confidence. A childhood of being moved around from household to household, without being able to place your trust in any one person or family, has a damaging effect on your self-knowledge and self-worth.

In time, that takes its toll on education in various ways. For me, the earlier years of school were very difficult. Not only was it impossible to conceal my unusual family situation from everyone, my lack of self-confidence often affected my work, causing distraction and misbehaviour. Sadly, there are still many such cases; there is a lot of work to do with improving education for children in care.

Thankfully, in my teenage years I was blessed to be moved into a loving home, with a family that knew that I needed a lot of support and encouragement in education. My foster mother, Phil, was very good at identifying things that I enjoyed and putting me to work at them, such as with music and, well, talking a lot. She insisted that I join the school debating society. Before long, my teacher was enlisting me for tournaments.

That’s where Scullion LAW comes into the picture.  Scullion LAW’s debating competition not only gave me a little glimpse into the legal world, it also offered me a unique opportunity to understand my abilities and gain a bit of confidence. By speaking to a room full of people, trying to convince them of my argument, I was exposed to a whole new world of dialectics. In school, writing was often about getting a pass; in debating, however, it was about prudence, diligence, and reading the room. Through a great deal of perseverance, my debating partner Matthew and I won the competition in December 2013, which was an immensely proud moment for me.

Little did I know that this evening would be the beginning of my legal career.

Later that evening, my sister suggested that I should become a lawyer. Initially, I dismissed it as a silly idea. In my mind, law was for people who had money, from ordinary homes who had three cars and a house in the country. To add to that, back then the vast majority of kids in care did not even go to university. The idea of me becoming a lawyer had simply never crossed my mind.

 

However, the Scullion LAW debating competition totally sparked my interest in the legal world. I could not get away from it. I applied to study Law at Strathclyde a few years later, eventually going on to do my Diploma at the University of Glasgow. During my Diploma, I found myself back at the place where my journey began.

As I mentioned at the start, the Diploma Is the most expensive part of legal education for most lawyers. At this point I was living on my own and had left the care system, and like the vast majority of Diploma students, I needed a job to keep me afloat.

Providentially, our Managing Director, Nicholas, invited me back to the debating finals in 2019 to speak to the contestants about how important Debating is for education and human formation. Shortly after, the firm offered to support me for the year while I undertook my Diploma at Glasgow – which was a massive relief for me. Since then, I went on to do a Masters in Constitutional Law at Glasgow and the firm has continued to encourage and support me throughout my academic formation.

What matters most is that the firm has been there for me from start to finish. Although they did not know it at the time, that debating competition opened doors to opportunities that I would never have otherwise encountered. And in the end, when making the final push, the firm offered me a rich professional experience which I will carry with me for the rest of my career. For these things, I am certainly grateful.

Increasing access to the profession often seems like a grand project, but in reality it is the little things that matter. Community opportunities like the Scullion LAW debating tournament, work experience, or legal workshops can make all the difference to one young person. Scotland’s legal profession would be wise never to forget that.


We at Scullion LAW would all like to take this opportunity to thank Jamie for everything he has done to help us throughout the last few years and for his passion, enthusiasm and hard work. Our door at Scullion LAW is always open and he is always going to be a part of the extended Scullion LAW family. We want to wish him well with the next chapter and look forward to keeping in touch for many years to come.

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