Former College of Law student Birchlyn Conte has received a national award for her voluntary work helping to give free legal advice to those who would otherwise be unable to afford it.
Birchlyn, aged 32, received a ‘Highly Commended’ at the Junior Lawyers Division Pro Bono Awards ceremony held at the Law Society in London last week (Nov 12).
The annual awards celebrate the outstanding pro bono work undertaken by law students, trainee and newly qualified solicitors and were presented by Lord Phillips of Sudbury.
Birchlyn Conte receives her ‘Highly Commended’ award at the Junior Lawyers Division Pro Bono Awards Ceremony. Left to right: Kevin Poulter - chair of the JLD Pro Bono Awards 2009; Birchlyn Conte; Lord Phillips of Sudbury.
Birchlyn participated in a number of voluntary legal advice and assistance schemes while studying at The College of Law in Bloomsbury from September 2008 to July 2009. These included the College’s Legal Advice Centre and employment rights advice scheme, the National Centre for Domestic Violence and the Royal Courts of Justice Advice Bureau.
She said: “I was honoured and surprised to receive this award. I get great satisfaction in knowing that my input into clients’ lives has had a positive impact and feel privileged to be of some assistance to people. Pro bono is all about helping those less advantaged and being a successful and relevant lawyer requires the skills and attitude to give freely to society."
Birchlyn decided to give up her previous career in customer support and office administration and convert to law after experiencing two years of harassment from a manager. She wanted to help people who, like her, had suffered in their employment or in society because they were not aware of their rights.
She enrolled for an evening Access to Law course in 2004 and then studied for a law degree at London South Bank University from 2005 to 2008. She has just completed the Legal Practice Course, the next stage of training for aspiring solicitors, at The College of Law. Her aim is to obtain a training contract in a law firm and eventually work for the United Nations.
She said: “I decided to study law as my jobs were not fulfilling enough and I did not appreciate many of the injustices experienced by those around me due to their lack of knowledge of the rights and obligations they have in society. I felt law was the only subject, which would allow me to assist those who were unrepresented and possibly taken advantaged of due to their ignorance and naivety.
“I have a 13-year-old daughter and knowing that my choices greatly impact on her life was also a driving force to be successful and hopefully direct her path towards striving to be great."
Professor Sara Chandler, Pro Bono Coordinator at The College of Law, Bloomsbury said: “Not only did Birchlyn undertake an impressive number of pro bono cases while at the College, many of which are normally managed only by qualified lawyers, but she delivered work of outstanding quality and showed enthusiasm and dedication to her clients.
“She received this award because of her exceptional commitment and her motivation for forging a career in law in order to help people overcome difficulties similar to those she suffered in previous employment. She came to law later in life, and it was to great applause that the audience at the Law Society recognised her contribution and applauded Birchlyn as well as her mother and her daughter, who joined her on the platform at the request of Lord Phillips."
The awards were judged by Solicitor-General - Vera Baird QC MP; Shadow Secretary of State for Justice - Dominic Grieve QC MP; Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Justice David Howarth MP; Vice President of the Law Society – Linda Lee and Lord Phillips.