Overcome Obstacles and "Know Your Rights," By: Sophie Kasmi
In summer last year, I went through a difficult time in my career, and left the London law firm I had worked and trained in for over 4 years. What followed was a bit of an existential crisis, where I found myself asking what I wanted to do with my life. You might be thinking, didn’t you ask that before going through all the hassle and hard work involved in becoming a lawyer in the first place, Sophie? Well yes, of course I did, but anyone who studies Law at university (or Medicine, Engineering, or any other subject which leads to specific natural career path) will know the feeling of the one-way street you have walked down - on that street is a mountain to climb, which presents an enticing challenge. Reaching the top is qualification, and in a field as competitive as law, for many law students struggling to obtain a training contract, that feels like the ultimate achievement. I was one of those students.
Every candidate has their obstacles, and in my case this was a lack of private education, a modest household income, first-generation immigrant status, and no contacts in the legal field. Nevertheless, one of my biggest advantages was my parents’ expectation that I would work hard, and encouragement to aim high. I applied for whatever social mobility schemes were available to me. I interned with an Member of Parliament, obtained a place at an Oxford Summer School, and received immense support from the state schools I attended. When it came to choosing which degree to pursue law was the natural choice because I loved to debate, consider different viewpoints, and analyse words. I was also very much a people person, and enjoyed making myself useful by offering advice and helping others.
When I finally qualified, I found myself going back to these considerations. I realised that I had come a long way in 10 years, and whilst I certainly do not have all the answers, I have a great deal more knowledge than I did then. Friends, family and contacts will often go to a lawyer they know for advice when they’re facing issues. Sometimes they can help directly, and other times they can point them in the direction of someone who can, or to where they might find help. As lawyers, we don’t always have the answers, but we can act as a guide or sounding board on where or how to find them. Whilst this is a skill that we’ve all obtained during our legal training, that isn’t the only way it can be learnt or taught, and shouldn’t be.
Many people train and work to become lawyers because they want to help others, but it is easy to get distracted along the way and find yourself not doing that as much as you’d like to. When I look back now I realise I was lucky to go through what I did, because it made me remember why I wanted to become a lawyer in the first place. With that in mind, I set up KYR (which stands for Know Your Rights), with the intention of using it as a platform to educate the public on how to find answers when they can’t afford or access a lawyer. Whilst at this stage KYR is not offering direct legal advice on specific cases, the idea is to teach people how to think like a lawyer, and better understand what questions they should be asking when faced with potential legal issues.
Legal technology is fast-growing, but there are many untapped opportunities for targeting the public and non-lawyers as opposed to law firms and in-house legal teams. I hope that the existence of KYR will encourage and at some point enable this, to improve access to justice and benefit our society as a whole.