Amplifying Black voices in the legal profession: Winifred Mbieli
Winifred Mbieli 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.
Winifred Mbieli, Tier 1 Legal Adviser, shares her experiences:
Why do you volunteer at FLAC and why do you think pro bono volunteering is important?
I started volunteering because I wanted client face to face experience and also wanted to be able to help people who do not have the right means to proceed with their legal claims thereby promoting access to justice.
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?
Yes. I helped a client who was really stressed about her housing situation. I was able to calm her down by listening to her and asked the relevant questions without no pressure- but most of all listened to her. I researched on the relevant queries and gave her different options after drafting a letter to council on her behalf.
I also had a client who was very grateful with the services we provided to her that she left chocolates and gave it to Jasmine to give to me.
What’s your favourite part of volunteering at FLAC?
My favourite part about volunteering is that I get to see clients who come in hopeless, leave with a smile and hope. We always try our best to provide the best service to client and we are honest from beginning on the type of work we can take on.
Also, the environment at FLAC is very comforting and welcoming not only to the volunteers like myself but also to the clients. Volunteering at FLAC meant I met Jasmine, who is an amazing supervisor and I have been able to learn a lot as well as be exposed to opportunities to grow and develop personally and career wise as a Solicitor.
Do you feel your racial/cultural background has influenced the way you approach pro bono assistance? If so how?
I would say my racial and cultural background has contributed to me developing emotional intelligence. This helps me to serve my clients better..
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.