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Helping young people get into the legal profession

Hear from RBS Senior Legal Counsel Leigh Kirkpatrick on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and her recent win of the Legal Adviser of the Year Award.

When my name was called out as the winner of Legal Adviser of the Year at the 2017 Women in Finance Awards, I was shocked and delighted given the calibre of lawyers shortlisted. I was awarded because of the time I spend mentoring young people interested in law, and this recognition has just made me want to do more.

The award category looked at lawyers who ‘have demonstrated a significant positive contribution to the development, enhancement or success of their employer through innovative practice measures or pro bono work (which is providing free legal advice, usually to vulnerable or disadvantaged groups). In my case, the judges looked at, for example, my involvement with ‘First Step’ and ‘Lawyers in Schools’; both are RBS-supported programmes which give people in the bank’s legal departments the opportunity to volunteer and help young people who are interested in getting into the legal profession.

First Step gives 15-17 year olds in Edinburgh and London legal work experience. The programme aims to increase social mobility in the professional sector and is available specifically for certain groups of young people, for example those who get free school meals, or those who will be the first in their family to go to university. These groups are currently under-represented in the legal profession, so the programme aims to provide them with experience to help them develop and increase their chances of breaking into law, therefore helping diversify the profession. My role in the programme involves mentoring the students with their projects and keeping in touch with them as a mentor once their work experience is over.

Lawyers in Schools involves the RBS legal team working with an external law firm; together we go to Firhill High School, a state school in Edinburgh, and host hour-long sessions with students interested in law, covering subjects ranging from human rights, to social media, to employment law. The aim is to develop their understanding of these topics, build their confidence in talking about them and perhaps spark some interest in a career in law.

Having the opportunity to mentor and spend time with these young people is something I really appreciate, and being recognised for it underscores that this support really matters. Inclusion in all forms is important – as a woman in finance and law at RBS, I feel that I’ve been given the same encouragement and opportunities as I would have if I were a man. There are a lot of strong role models in the bank’s legal department (both women and men), and I don’t see myself as a female lawyer in the bank, I just see myself as a lawyer. This is the result of working in an inclusive environment, and I’m proud that the bank has programmes like First Step and Lawyers in Schools to increase diversity and inclusion and nurture talent from groups of young people who may not usually get a chance to break through into the profession.

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