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Alumna interview with Deputy Vice President of the Law Society of England and Wales, I. Stephanie Boyce

I. Stephanie Boyce graduated from our Guildford campus in 2000 and went on to be admitted to the Law Society in 2002. In July 2019 she took office as deputy vice-president and is set to become vice-president in 2020 and president in 2021. We caught up with Stephanie to discuss her time with us and what she wants to achieve during her time with the Law Society.

I studied for the Legal Practice Course at the College of Law (now The University of Law) in Guildford from 1999-2000. While there, I met two extraordinary members of faculty whom I am pleased to see are still teaching there. These two ladies, Sarah Grey and Melanie Williams, through their support and encouragement, enabled me to focus on developing my legal mind. I remain grateful to them both for their unwavering support. I went on to train and qualify as a solicitor with Horwood and James solicitors.

I was inspired to study law because of my strong sense of justice and the injustices I saw unfolding around the world at that time. How the rule of law was/is experienced and perceived in practical, everyday situations and the impact it had on citizens and their right to self-determination. I wanted to affect change and be part of that change.

Legal rights mean nothing if people can’t exercise them. While time has moved on, we still see people unable to access justice both domestically and internationally. The Law Society’s public interest role places us as a guardian of the rule of law and as such we have a responsibility to ensure access to justice is available for all.

Studying at the College of Law was an obvious choice for me given its many notable alumni’s including my future training principal. At interview we had an instant connection exchanging stories of our time at Guildford. I met some remarkable people during my time at the College of Law, some of who I remain in contact with to this day and, made my time there unforgettable.

It is my absolute honour to have been elected from among my peers to lead our profession as President, as I will do in 2021/22. I bring a totally unique perspective to this role with my skills and experience. I do not and will not underestimate the significance of my election to this role. I will work to continue to raise awareness of the solicitor profession and the extraordinary work we do. I intend to be visible and collaborative, seeking to renew old acquaintances and forge new alliances. I am hugely grateful to my colleagues for making this all possible.

My election as DVP demonstrates a commitment to change and recognises our changing profession. I am an in-house solicitor, probably the first in-house solicitor to hold this post or at least the first to become an office holder in almost fifty years. The number of in-house solicitors is the fastest growing area of our profession and is predicted to reach 35 per cent of the profession by 2020. My election presents an excellent opportunity to raise the profile of this section of our membership.

I will work to strengthen our support for this community, ensuring that in-house solicitors see the Law Society as a convening body to support them in their work and careers. Above all, I will use our collective voice to represent all our members wherever they practice.

My election is likely to impact how potential candidates are perceived in the future, which for me is one of the most valuable outcomes changing what people envision when they think of what leaders should look and sound like. It took me four attempts before I was successfully elected, along the way overcoming many obstacles, dreaming big and breaking down barriers.

My election has generated much interest not just from within the legal sector but other sectors and globally. I am committed to raising the profile of the Law Society and using our collaborative voice to make a positive difference.

I will make history by becoming the first ethnic minority President in 2021/22 in its 200- year history. As President I will lead our independent, strong and diverse legal profession with pride by emphasising the work of solicitors and their contribution to the economy, society and continuing to lobby government to provide a justice system that is equitable, accessible and affordable.

I am first generation British, the first in my family to go to university and the first to qualify as a solicitor. I do not come from a privileged background. I come from a background as a child of a single parent from an afro-Caribbean working class home; my grandparents and parents coming here from the Caribbean in search of faith, hope and greater opportunities. 

I was the first person in my family to stay in education after the age of 16. I went to a comprehensive state school having failed the selective exam. In my heart, I nursed a dream of becoming a solicitor but time and time again, I was told because of my socio-economical background I would never make it. It is amazing what you can achieve when you are determined and resilient.

So my advice is: dare to dream. Your dream, your vision, your goal belongs to you. I told myself time and time again that I was Deputy Vice President before it actually came to fruition; such was the belief I had in the power of my dream. Never allow yourself to be discouraged by difficulties or setbacks. Don’t ever allow anyone to take your dream away from you. Dare to be bold and beautiful, dare to make a positive difference and never ever give up.

The UK legal services market is the second largest in the world and the largest in the European Union. The jurisdiction of England and Wales is a strong jurisdiction, long regarded around the world and underpinned by a strong regulatory framework. I am absolutely privileged to have studied, trained and qualified in this jurisdiction. I believe education to be the start of a journey towards economic and social equality and studying law in this jurisdiction placed me in good stead

Looking forward, it is impossible not to feel an immense sense of surging excitement and nervousness about the opportunities and challenges that lie in front of the legal profession. From the regulatory upheaval stimulated by Brexit, changes to consumer behaviour, changes to the way solicitors will qualify, technological development and ongoing developments that will shape future changes in the sector and in our membership. I will work to engage with our members better, to promote the work the Law Society does at a national and local level so that we can best use our collective voice to represent all our members as one profession.

I am proud to be a solicitor, proud to be a member of the legal profession and to have proactively engaged with the Law Society over many years.  I want to continue to be part of a forward-looking body that advocates and promotes change, challenges and influences whatever the future may hold for our profession.

In addition the way solicitors will qualify in the future is set to change. The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is going to be a momentous change, the biggest shake-up in legal education in decades. One of the desired outcomes of the changes is to 'remove artificial and unjustifiable barriers' to qualification, although it is difficult to quantify if the SQE will result in increased costs of qualification.

There have been many highlights in my career, achieving my law degree, becoming admitted as a solicitor, achieving a Masters in Law from Kings College, London, becoming a Fellow of ICSA, but above all being elected by my peers as an office holder of the Law Society of England and Wales has been a remarkable achievement. I do not and will not underestimate the significance of my election to this role and the many lives that I might touch and inspire to join the legal profession and stay in law.

All my colleagues inspire me.  Each person I have read about or had the privilege to work with has inspired me in some way or the other.

I am also inspired by a life of service, it was Mahatma Gandhi who said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” I can think of nothing more rewarding than sharing.

 

Discover more about studying the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at The University of Law