Judges at the Northern Law Awards praised the Newcastle University Law School and Excelsior Academy Mentoring Scheme which sees law students act as coaches to school pupils, opening up the legal world as an exciting career option for them.
Leading Newcastle law firms Bond Dickinson, Ward Hadaway and Sintons hosted the Excelsior pupils over the past two years in a series of workshops, debates and staged a mock trial at Newcastle University Law School with the pupils playing the role of legal counsel.
The scheme scooped the Northern Law Awards ProBono/Community Initiative honour, fighting off stiff competition from projects across the region and earning the admiration of judges.
Law school students served as mentors to approximately 30 Year 10 and 12 pupils at Excelsior Academy, taking youngsters to visit the offices of local law firms, project partners and to the university to learn more about a career in the legal profession.
The law firms have also played host to several Excelsior pupils, offering work experience placements to give them their first taste of the legal world.
In presenting the award the judges said they were impressed by the fact that the scheme was student-led, innovative and made a great contribution in changing young people’s lives.
Kirsty Ruffle, the Excelsior Academy teacher who has led the project for the school, said: “Excelsior enjoys a close working relationship with Newcastle University and many of our students involved on the mentoring scheme have said it’s the best thing they’ve been involved with, meeting law school graduates and learning what a legal career can offer.
“We are thrilled to win this award for a scheme which has proved so beneficial for our pupils, broadening their career horizons and inspiring them to go on to university.”
Helen Marr, Bond Dickinson Graduate Development Specialist led the law firm’s mentoring sessions with Excelsior pupils, supported by colleagues Joanne Smallwood, Graduate Recruitment Specialist and trainee solicitors including Nick Moss.
Helen commented: “It’s so rewarding for us to work with students to convey the message that law isn’t just for other people – if you work hard enough and you are driven enough you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.
“We’ve helped to give pupils the confidence to get up and speak, to share their ideas, bounce ideas off each other and challenge each other’s thinking and were really impressed with the students’ contributions.”
At Ward Hadaway, HR director Lisa Davies, Recruitment and Development Manager Caroline Bogira and Training Principal Nicola Richardson led the law firm’s involvement in the award-winning scheme.
Nicola, who is also a partner at the firm, said: “As a firm, we have always believed that ability and aptitude are the most important things for any would-be lawyer and we saw plenty of that from the students who took part in the scheme.
“It is a great way to help open up the law to people who may not have thought of a career in legal services before.”
Newcastle Law School students Isabelle Weston Goodman and Georgia Neaum Davis accepted the accolade on behalf of the project and said it was important to the law school students that they are able to give something back to the community they are part of.
Georgia, who graduated with first class honours this year, said: “Winning the award is a brilliant recognition for all the people who are involved with the scheme. I absolutely loved working with the teachers and students at Excelsior Academy. All the positive feedback, seeing the pupils use the skills they learn and giving something back to the community is really rewarding.”
Newcastle Law School Head of School, Professor Chris Rodgers, said: “This is a fantastic reflection on all the work that students and colleagues have put into the scheme over the last couple of years.”
Excelsior Academy has a specialism in business enterprise and has nurtured partnerships with local businesses and universities to offer its pupils the very best opportunities when they head out into the world of work following exam success.
It enjoys a close working relationship with Newcastle University. Academy sponsor Lord Laidlaw and the university jointly fund bursary places for Excelsior students, Excelsior pupils enrol on the university’s Inspiring Minds Mentoring Scheme and the academy enjoys a partnership with the university law school.