Interview With The Founder Of Urban Lawyers Tunde Okewale

Urban Lawyers

Urb­an law­yers is a Lon­don based organ­isa­tion that works with loc­al com­munit­ies, agen­cies and law stu­dents through­out the UK  It aims to make the law access­ible and com­pre­hens­ible for mar­gin­al­ised groups through pro­vi­sion of online resources and deliv­ery of events and work­shops.

It was foun­ded by renowned bar­ris­ter Tun­de Oke­wale who has recently become a pat­ron for Hack­ney Law Centre. I caught up with Tun­de to find out more about his jour­ney, achieve­ments and why he foun­ded Urb­an Law­yers.

After get­ting a 2:2 you pre­vailed again­st the odds to go on to become a suc­cess­ful and accom­plished law­yer. What advice do you have for any­one who didn’t get the grades they want in uni­ver­sity but are still pas­sion­ate about pur­su­ing a com­pet­it­ive pro­fes­sion? 

My top tips for suc­cess are patience, per­sist­ence and prac­tice. Per­sist­ence means hav­ing the abil­ity to con­tin­ue even when things are at their gloom­i­est. Patience means the abil­ity to not become impa­tience when pro­gress doesn’t seem to be pro­gress­ing as quickly as you want it to be. Prac­tice — the repe­ti­tion and cul­tiv­a­tion of a habit is essen­tial because the only way that the qual­ity of your work and life can improve is when you do it. Prac­tice makes per­fect.

It is easy to con­form as it is very easy to want to rep­lic­ate and duplic­ate what oth­ers are doing. We have been taught to accept opin­ions, cus­toms and tra­di­tions of oth­ers and shy away from being your­self. The most dif­fi­cult thing to do is to stand up in a room when every­one else is seated.

Things rarely work out the way you planned and there will always be dis­trac­tions and stum­bling blocks that you have to deal with when you are on your road to suc­cess. The key point to remem­ber is to per­sist and to develop the cour­age to move on even when every­one around you is telling you it is ok to give up.  Like Rocky Bal­boa, keep get­ting up and keep fight­ing.

Be pro­act­ive – if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. Ask for mini- pupil­lages – net­work, attend sem­inars and meet and speak to as many people in the pro­fes­sion as pos­sible, cul­tiv­ate pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ships as early as you can.

You are from Hack­ney, east Lon­don. Were you peers and teach­ers sup­port­ive of your aspir­a­tions and ambi­tion?

No, but that may been because they didn’t under­stand why I was doing what I was doing. Many of them voiced out their con­cerns, which at times did make them, seem dis­sent­ing. That being said my fam­ily and friends are and have always been sup­port­ive if me and my endeavors

What can we do to help young black boys to thrive in the edu­ca­tion sys­tem?

Believe in them! We need to break the soft bigotry of low expect­a­tions and raise the aspir­a­tions of our young people gen­er­ally.

You con­trib­uted to a report on the polit­ic­ally charged riots of 2011. Do you think the gov­ern­ment at a loc­al and cent­ral levels has learned from the report? 

I think the gov­ern­ment always learns the dif­fi­culty the tsk is imple­ment­ing that learn­ing to pro­duce pos­it­ive out­comes that is a chal­lenge that  not only the gov­ern­ment  has but loc­al com­munit­ies too.

What are some of the most not­able or recent cases you have been involved in?

The high pro­file pro-bono case referred by the Cardiff Uni­ver­sity ‘Inno­cence Pro­ject’, which saw the over­turn of the wrong­ful Murder con­vic­tion of Dwaine George. This was the first ever case to be referred to the Court of Appeal by uni­ver­sity stu­dents.

I also spe­cial­ize in crim­in­al work with a polit­ic­al and civil liber­ties dimen­sion, with a par­tic­u­lar emphas­is on freedom of expres­sion and the right to protest. I have defen­ded prom­in­ent stu­dents and Lon­don “rioters” and I have acted for defend­ants in the Occupy move­ment, includ­ing the occu­pa­tion of Tra­fal­gar Square and the evic­tion of the St. Paul’s camp. I have also advised a large num­ber of UK record­ing artist and ath­letes. I am most pas­sion­ate about defend­ing people accused of wrong­do­ing irre­spect­ive of the tribunal.

Why did you set up Urb­an Law­yers?

I cre­ated Urb­an Law­yers, as I didn’t believe there was enough careers advice, sup­port and edu­ca­tion being dis­sem­in­ated about law for people from dis­ad­vant­aged back­grounds. I felt a sense of duty to inspire and edu­cate those who aspired to attain career goals sim­il­ar to my own and sim­il­arly didn’t have the tra­di­tion­al requis­ites to prac­tice law.

Ori­gin­ally, Urb­an Law­yers was just me – The Urb­an Law­yer. How­ever, I soon real­ised that for long-last­ing effect, it had to be some­thing that someone else could take over and that oth­ers could con­trib­ute to and be involved in. You have to go far and have a jour­ney with people to really suc­ceed. The oppor­tun­it­ies and sup­port we provide are mainly through online resources, inform­a­tion and oppor­tun­it­ies for young people to secure work and/or exper­i­ence in the leg­al pro­fes­sion.  We have awar­ded schol­ar­ships in part­ner­ship with BPP Law School and have arranged work exper­i­ence and skills train­ing for over 5,000 stu­dents from non-tra­di­tion­al back­grounds that demon­strate aca­dem­ic poten­tial and are act­ively involved in com­munity out­reach.

Why is the work of urb­an law­yers so import­ant? 

The organ­iz­a­tion attempts to make law in every facet access­ible to all par­tic­u­larly those from mar­gin­al­ized groups and / or com­munit­ies. One of the causes of people fall­ing to adhere to the law is due to lack of edu­ca­tion or know­ledge of the law and the same is applic­able to those who are unsuc­cess­ful in the pur­suit of a leg­al career. Urb­an Law­yers that makes the law (in its aca­dem­ic, prac­tic­al and career con­texts) more access­ible to mar­gin­al­ized groups in soci­ety. Urb­an Law­yers aims to provide inspir­a­tion and edu­ca­tion to all who have or will come into con­tact with the law and/or leg­al pro­fes­sion.

How vital is the work of pro bono law­yers and law centres in this cur­rent economic/political cli­mate?

As Gov­ern­ment reforms over­haul the leg­al justice sys­tem it is now more import­ant than ever to ensure that mem­bers of the leg­al com­munity take on the social duty to assist the most vul­ner­able in our soci­ety.  An estim­ated 650,000 people are denied leg­al aid fol­low­ing Gov­ern­ment cuts, amp­li­fy­ing the work of firms like the Shef­field Hallam’s Crim­in­al Appeals Clin­ic and their reli­ance on part­ner­ships with­in the leg­al com­munity.

Pro bono work could not replace a prop­erly fun­ded leg­al sys­tem. How­ever, as law­yers (mem­bers of the community/profession) we must recog­nise that for many of those who are denied access to justice, the pres­ence of a pro bono law­yer is the only aven­ue afford­ing them recourse to the law.

The stark find­ings of the Bar Council’s “LASPO: One Year On” report showed that as pub­lic funds dried up between 2013–2014, applic­a­tion to the Bar Pro Bono Unit increased by 50 per cent. This high­lights the stark lim­it­a­tions to access to justice and should encour­age our pro­fes­sion to cre­ate part­ner­ships so there is no unchal­lenged injustice

What are most valu­able assets a per­son can develop to achieve a suc­cess­ful, ful­filling and enrich­ing life?

 

Don’t make excuses be an example

If you don’t ask the answer will always be no

If you nev­er take a step for­ward you will always be in the same place

Tough times don’t last but tough people do

Things don’t hap­pen qucikly but they hap­pen sud­denly

A group of urb­an law­yers are march­ing with the Lord chief justice at the Lon­don Leg­al sponsored walk to raise funds for Law centres and pro bono agen­cies in the Lon­don area. These agen­cies play a crit­ic­al role in redu­cing risk of home­less­ness and resolv­ing debt prob­lems and chal­len­ging all areas of explor­a­tion and abuse.

Please spon­sor them at

http://m.virginmoneygiving.com/mt/uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=UrbanLawyers2016&isTeam=true&un_jtt_redirect=un_jtt_iosV

http://www.urbanlawyers.co.uk

@Urban_Lawyers

By Amma Priscil­la Mante

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I Am Hip-Hop magazine welcomes contributions from guest authors. If you would like to review an event, please get in touch! iamhiphopmagazine[at]gmail.com