Naomi Sander is an Associate at Gowling WLG and coordinator of Lawyers Against Poverty (LAP)’s Junior Lawyers Network (JLAP). She spoke with our Media Volunteer Emma Pomfret about her experiences with LAP.
How did you get involved with LAP when it was set up in 2015?
“I saw an advert at the Law Society for the launch with guest speakers. During the event LAP said they were looking for people who were up for going to Tajikistan and I said I’d be interested. I was offered a place and my firm sponsored it. I went to Tajikistan on a one-week field trip with Joss Saunders [Oxfam General Counsel and LAP co-founder] and other lawyers; we spoke with a variety of players in the law and justice field about whether we could facilitate legal training or support with Oxfam. We also started the foundations for the first Twinning Project.”
Do you have a profound memory from that trip to Tajikistan?
“Visiting rural communities with a legal aid clinic was a pretty powerful experience. We met women who, because they didn’t understand the difference between their legal rights and the religious conventions they were living under, were abandoned by their husbands and left in abject poverty. Previously, under Tajik law, they had quite good agricultural land rights. We heard a lot of stories of women who were fighting now to get back their home or their land after being religiously divorced – where the law would protect them if they had knowledge and access.”
You established and lead LAP’s junior lawyers’ network (JLAP), why is it needed?
“I was a law student – post-graduate – and I was aware that at university campuses there aren’t many opportunities for students to get involved in the more developmental, access-to-justice sides of law. Generally, law schools are tailored towards corporate law careers, especially from a recruitment perspective.
“So, one of our ideas was to provide law students with opportunities to experience and access non-commercial areas of law, whether on the ground, pro bono or with career support to help them get into environmental law or human rights. Or to help students understand that if you go into law because you care about justice and you end up in a corporate law firm, it doesn’t mean you have to entirely forget about these ideas of justice and human rights.”
What have been the highlights of JLAP’s past year?
“The students have continued to run events online and we’ve had some amazing guest speakers. I attended one that UCL did with a charity that works on period poverty, which was very well attended. The partnership with the International Law Book Facility has continued, so students have been sending books to libraries across Africa. We launched in Nairobi University School of Law this year – our first international branch. And we’re looking at Zambia, Tanzania and Ethiopia. The issues for us are capacity; if we’re going to grow, we need more support from volunteers to run it.”
What motivates you to work for social justice and can you incorporate that in your job?
“Honestly, it’s just something that’s within you. I was brought up to understand that justice, democracy, and human rights are fundamental values, and to recognise the privilege that we have in the northern hemisphere communities. For me, going into corporate law, it’s been important to maintain that.
“At Gowling I’ve worked on a pilot twinning programme [inspired by LAP’s programme]. We’re starting with six Gowling UK lawyers – at every level, from associates to partners – twinned with six lawyers practising in African jurisdictions. The firm was particularly focused on developing the Africa practice.
“So far we’ve started matching with lawyers in Ethiopia and Rwanda and we’ve had amazing feedback from the African law firms. We hope we can open it up to more people, beyond Africa, and then to other Gowling offices around the world.”