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Urban lawyers is a London
based organisations 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 teacher’s 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 task 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
wronging 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
Take no for a question
Thugh 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 child 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 in sands of exploration and abuse.

Please sponsor them at
By Amma Priscilla
Mante

Ed’s Note- This interview was originally published here