BHRC and the Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) are pleased to be working with our partners to host a one-day virtual seminar in November 2023. The one-day programme of panel sessions will aim to:
- Explore human rights careers and encourage law students to pursue human rights specialisms
- Explore the positive impact of probono work in human rights advocacy
- Help law students and early career lawyers find out more about career opportunities in human rights legal practice and with international human rights NGOs
Human rights law is an essential tool for holding governments and powerful entities accountable for their actions. Many victims of human rights abuses lack access to legal representation or the resources to seek justice. Encouraging more law students and early career lawyers to specialise in human rights can help bridge this gap; as more law students and early career lawyers enter the field of human rights, they can influence the legal profession’s values and priorities, fostering a future culture of law that emphasises social justice and the protection of fundamental rights.
The seminar will be open to law students (including undergraduates and postgraduate researchers), as well as trainee solicitors, pupil barristers and early- to mid-career solicitors and barristers who are interested in moving into human rights practice. Registration is free and all attendees will receive a Certificate of Attendance from BHRC and the HRLA.
Date: Tuesday 28 November 2023 (on Zoom)
Time: 10:00 – 15:50 (with break for lunch)
Hosted by the Bar Human Rights Committee and the Young Lawyers’ Committee at the Human Rights Lawyers Association, with supporting partners to be announced
Session Programme (Subject to Change)
10:00-10:30 (Opening) Session I – Empowering and inspiring law students and early career lawyers as the next generation of human rights defenders
Human rights are fundamental to the wellbeing and dignity of all individuals. By training law students and early career lawyers to become human rights advocates, we promote the protection and advancement of these rights across various sectors and jurisdictions and support the advancement of human rights culture and respect for rule of law in future economies and societies. This opening session will be chaired by Stephen Cragg KC, Chair of BHRC; and will welcome Aswini Weereratne KC, Vice Chair of BHRC; Lui Asquith, Vice Chair of HRLA; and Shoaib M Khan, Vice Chair of HRLA.
10:30-11:30 Session II – What do human rights careers involve? A day in the life of …
What does a career in human rights look like, day to day? What are the sorts of things you might find yourself doing? In this discussion, experienced professionals from the field will provide an in-depth look at their daily routines, sharing insights about the practical aspects of working in international human rights law, with the UN system, with other lawyers and with the media and civil society organisations. This session will be chaired by Jodie Blackstock, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers & Treasurer, BHRC, Member of the BHRC Executive Committee, with confirmed speakers including Adam Wagner, Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers; Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director of Human Rights Watch; and Ruth Mercer, Solicitor, Southwark Law Centre.
11:30-12:30 Session III – Strengthening rule of law and civil society through probono work and culture
Lawyers specialising in human rights ogen work with civil society organisations and NGOs to advocate for change, raise awareness, and provide legal assistance to marginalised communities. Encouraging more law students to enter the human rights field with a clear understanding of the importance of probono work and the difference it makes to the lives of survivors of human rights abuses can strengthen the capacities of CSOs and broaden their impact. This session will be chaired by Grainne Mellon, Vice-Chair of BHRC who was highly commended in the ‘Junior Pro Bono Barrister of the Year’ category at the Bar Pro Bono Awards 2021 for her inspirational work helping vulnerable EU children and families apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. Confirmed speakers include Yasmin Batliwala MBE, CEO, Advocates for International Development (A4ID); Beth Hermaszewska, Caseworker at Advocate; and Debra Long, International Policy Manager, The Law Society of England & Wales.
12:30-13:00 Break for lunch
13:00-14:00 Session IV – An honest, holistic view of resilience, mental wellbeing and human rights work
Human rights careers often provide practitioners and advocates with a strong sense of purpose, allowing them to contribute positively to social justice and impact the lives of others in a meaningful way. This can lead to a more fulfilling and rewarding career, but it can also sometimes lead to adverse mental health impacts. Human rights defenders very often have to develop tremendous resilience as well as draw from the support of their personal and professional networks to manage day-to-day exposure to traumatised victims or to materials or evidence which may be traumatic to engage with. This session, chaired by Aswini Weereratne KC, Vice-Chair of BHRC, is an exploration of the importance of resilience and mental wellbeing for human rights defenders, building on a virtual workshop that BHRC ran in July 2022 on this important subject for the legal profession. Confirmed speakers include Haydee Dijkstal, Barrister at 33 Bedford Row & Member, BHRC Executive Committee; Rachel Spearing, Co-Founder of Wellbeing at the Bar; James Pereira KC, Barrister at Francis Taylor Building & LawCare Champion; and Aarif Abraham, Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers.
14:00-15:00 Session V – What are the core skills I need to develop to work in human rights practice and advocacy?
Typically, human rights work demands a combination of skills, languages, experience and personal qualities that align with an organisation’s mission and values. Beyond a highly transferrable legal education or a degree in law, international relations, or political science, some organisations may require specialised knowledge or an advanced degree such as an LLM or a PhD. They will also be looking for some prior experience in human rights work and advocacy, and so the session will cover strategies for securing internships, voluntary work, research and professional experience with international human rights NGOs, Chambers, the courts or national human rights institutions (NHRIs). Importantly, human rights organisations will be looking for advanced analytical, problem solving, communication and organisational skills, as well as a high degree of empathy and emotional intelligence, resilience, flexibility / adaptability and cultural sensitivity. This session will leave participants with a well-rounded sense of what international human rights organisations are looking for in candidates and how law students and early career practitioners can build vital skills and competencies throughout the various stages of legal education, post-law school vocational training and in their continued professional development. This session will be chaired by Shoaib Khan, Barrister and Solicitor-Advocate & Vice-Chair of HRLA, with confirmed speakers including Michael Harwood, Barrister at 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square & Chair of the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee of England and Wales for 2023; Ben Leather, Director of Peace Brigades International (PBI); Helena Samaha, President & CEO of Lex Mundi; and Chris Esdaile, Legal Advisor, REDRESS.
15:00-15:30 (Closing) Session VI – Human rights futures: How can I make a difference?
This closing session will invite legal luminaries to share their advice for law students, recent graduates and early career practitioners who want to enter into or transition into human rights careers, answering the following questions: What are the most critical challenges currently faced by human rights defenders around the world, and how can the next generation of human rights defenders make a difference? How can we best leverage technology and artificial intelligence to protect human rights in practice and in advocacy? And how do we improve diversity and inclusion in legal education and in the legal profession now and in the future? This session will be chaired by Stephen Cragg KC, with confirmed speakers including Dr Felicity Gerry KC, International King’s Counsel, London and Melbourne & Professor of Legal Practice; and Lui Asquith, Associate Solicitor, Russell-Cooke Solicitors & Vice Chair, HRLA.
For further information about this initiative of the Bar Human Rights Committee and the Human Rights Lawyers Association to empower the next generation of human rights defenders, please contact the project lead, Dr Louise Loder.