Amplifying Black voices in the legal profession: Afia Nicholas
Afia Nicholas shares her experiences as a Pro Bono Adviser at our Free Legal Advice Centre and as a Black legal professional
A crucial part of our work at Toynbee Hall is providing wider access to justice to the communities we serve to create a fairer and happier society. Our Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) has been providing free, expert legal advice since 1898 and the service has always relied on the dedication of pro-bono volunteers. This month, in honour of Black History Month, we want to celebrate the impact and contribution of Black volunteers.
We asked Black legal professionals who give up their time to offer free legal advice, to share their experiences of volunteering at FLAC and how their racial and cultural background has influenced their approach to providing essential legal support.
The first volunteer we interviewed was Afia Nicholas, a Tier 1 Legal Advisor at FLAC.
Why do you volunteer at FLAC and why do you think pro bono volunteering is important?
I volunteer at FLAC because I believe in the importance of legal advice being accessible to everyone and am committed to doing my part in trying to enable increased equity of access to legal advice. Pro Bono volunteering is important because access to legal assistance can be provided for all, particularly those who may not be able to obtain assistance otherwise.
Is there a success you’ve had for a client that you’re particularly proud of? If so, how did you help the client and what outcome did you have?
I always feel a sense of success when I provide a client with clear advice and information which they can then be empowered by.
What’s your favourite part of volunteering at FLAC?
I enjoy providing legal advice and working with and learning from colleagues. There is a real sense of community at Toynbee Hall. I am also able to continue to develop my oral and written communication skills.
From your experience, if you could change one thing to improve access to justice for people in the communities FLAC serves, what would it be?
I would like to see more funding for Law/ Legal Advice Centres. £5.4 million in funding has been provided for the Legal Advice Sector during the COVID-19 pandemic and I would like to see continued and sustained funding for Law Centres so that they can continue to stay open and provide legal advice to everyone, particularly those who are most disadvantaged.
I also would like to see increased funding for law centres so that there can be more provision for casework. Sometimes, clients have legal issues that require prolonged casework that can’t be solved through initial advice. More funding can be used to fund Lawyers to provide casework to clients who need it most on a pro bono basis.
Do you feel your racial/cultural background has influenced the way you approach pro bono assistance? If so how?
I believe everyone is capable of empathy and understanding. My racial and cultural background means that I have a heightened understanding of social issues that clients may be experiencing. Often the clients we assist are from an ethnic minority background and they may experience a variety of social and structural challenges. It is important to be aware that often, clients’ legal issues or lack of access to justice do not operate in a vacuum, but can be part of their racialized and social group experiences.
Supporting young Black people with aspirations in the legal profession
Much has changed since since we began offering free legal advice 122 years ago but sadly structural racism still exists in society and in the legal profession. Toynbee Hall and our longstanding corporate partner Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP are committed to eliminating all forms of structural racism and maximizing opportunities for Black lawyers.
That’s why this month to coincide with Black History Month, we launched the Champions Project – a programme for black people in Tower Hamlets at university, or who have recently graduated—both aspiring to become lawyers or are interested in one of the many professional careers in an international law firm. Participants in will be matched with a colleague within their London office as a means of widening access to law firms and creating positive change within the legal profession.