Sahana Karthik completed her LLB at UCL in summer 2021 and was President of the Junior Lawyers Against Poverty Society from August 2020.
Why did you join JLAP?
“I had worked as a legal assistant at Citizens Advice Kensington & Chelsea, so I knew I had an interest in third-sector law. It has a very real impact when you speak to people who are so affected and don’t have access to the legal system because of money, frankly. So, I wanted to study how we could fix that. You’d think that in a country like the UK it wouldn’t be an issue, but it is.”
What’s different about JLAP?
“The organisational structure itself is quite different – you get a lot of support from LAP. And there are only a few organisations where you can move on from the student chapter. LAP has that connection throughout your career. Its tie-ups to other organisations help – like The Slynn Foundation [working to improve justice systems worldwide] and International Law Book Facility [distributing second-hand law books]. JLAP also provides a community of like-minded people. In our first year I saw that a lot of universities started JLAP chapters. One good thing that’s come out of Covid is that distance doesn’t matter.”
What JLAP events were you able to host at UCL during the pandemic?
“They’ve been mostly social media-focused. We ran a seminar last October, Poverty and Pandemic: A Deadly Combination. We considered the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on BAME groups and minority groups such as women and children. We had speakers from Bloody Good Period and refugee organisations.
“Then we moved into pre-recorded interviews – the Public Interest Careers series. For students at home in different time zones they are there as and when they want and available for longer. They were a massive hit for getting an insight into careers.”
The interviewees have included a Court of Appeal judge, a QC in international financial law, a human rights lawyer… what have you learnt?
“The personal insight from each was very valuable. I was most surprised by how open and welcoming and warm a lot of the interviewees were. There’s a perception that people in law are very cold; that once you get to a certain level you’re unapproachable. I didn’t find that at all.
“It also gave me a clearer idea of how, regardless of which type of lawyer you are going to become – in-house, a barrister or judge – there’s still a place for pro bono. A lot of students think of pro bono as a way to fluff up your CV or to get experience, but it was very nice to see there are even careers in third-sector law and ways to continue pro bono law.”
Finally, which of LAP’s thematic areas do you hope to be involved in?
“Refugee rights, especially because I’m from India where we have a huge issue with certain religious communities and refugees being excluded by the Citizenship Amendment Bill. India is a secular country – at least on paper – but with the new Government there seems to be a preference for certain cultural and religious groups at the expense of others, for instance Muslims. There have been massive protests about it.
“And the twinning programme is a novel idea. We’ve all had a pen pal at some point and it’s a great way to amp it up to a university level. We have a lot of plans for the upcoming year to put our students in touch with other law students. As an international student I’ve been exposed to different legal systems, all of them based on English law, and I’ve always found that interesting; to see the reasoning behind why laws founded on the same principles differ so much in their execution. A lot of students at UCL, who want to go into dispute resolution and international arbitration, would find it interesting.”