Amplifying Black voices in the legal profession: Janette Plummer
Janette Plummer 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.
Janette Plummer, FLAC Housing Legal Adviser, shares her experiences:
Why do you volunteer at FLAC and why do you think pro bono volunteering is important?
I have, for a number of years, been involved in providing pro bono legal advice to members of the public as an adviser and advocate; and have an avid interest in social policy, tackling inequality and access to justice having studied social welfare law and advice practice at MA level. Volunteering at FLAC enables legal advisers to be actively involved in the campaign to make legal advice more widely available to all individuals, regardless of income or background. Clients experiencing legal issues/problems which are not resolved due to their being unable to gain access to legal advice and assistance can sometimes find themselves dealing with additional social problems as a direct result of this failure (through no fault of their own) to resolve legal problems at a very early stage.
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 have assisted clients with many successes that I am particularly proud of. More specifically, any matter involving an extremely vulnerable client which is successfully resolved gives me great pleasure. A small sample of my cases has involved assisting clients with mental health conditions (who have been found not to be in priority need) to secure social housing; assisted vulnerable clients, released from prison (who have been found to be intentionally homeless) in securing affordable accommodation; assisting clients with severe disrepair in their accommodation to secure remedial works being undertaken and compensation payments; and successfully set aside possession orders and defended claims for possession on various grounds.
What’s your favourite part of volunteering at FLAC?
Being constantly reminded by grateful clients how much of a difference the availability of good free legal advice can make to an individual’s life, peace of mind, physical and mental wellbeing – making a difference.
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?
The presence of an increased number of professional and competent free legal advice services in the locality; or, in the alternative, a review of legal aid funding to ensure that the most vulnerable in society can access legal services.
Do you feel your racial/cultural background has influenced the way you approach pro bono assistance? If so how?
I believe that my racial/cultural background has influenced the way that I approach pro bono assistance. There is published research on this subject which identifies that this applies to the majority of individuals, and the outcomes are varied depending upon racial/cultural background and personal experiences. Personally, I believe that my racial/cultural background provides clients with a level of understanding which goes beyond textbooks and academia; is the foundation of my interest in social policy, diversity and inclusion; enables me to consider the wider social policy issues and challenges faced by certain groups of people when providing legal advice; and plays a pivotal role in my enthusiasm and dedication to my career and pro bono advice. In my view, increased diversity in the legal profession (at all levels) is one of the first key steps in tackling accessibility, fairness and access to justice.
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.