A case for the defence of lawyers
Rich men in grey suits - that's how many pupils would describe a lawyer. One pupil at Stranraer Academy even said they were "boring".
But he and his schoolmates quickly discovered that members of the law profession do not always fit their stereotypes when they were visited by Eilidh Wiseman, head of the employment group at an Edinburgh law firm.
The lawyer from Dundas amp; Wilson visited her former school for a question- and-answer session set up by the Schools Law Web, a project that introduces young people to the legal system and legal concepts.
Founded by Patrick Gaffney, a teacher from East Lothian, eight years ago, and supported by the Law Society of Scotland, it provides teaching resources, but also pairs up interested law firms with their local schools and, where possible, organises school visits by lawyers.
"Teachers are extremely busy, and the idea is to give them something which is highly practical, so we supply ready-to-go teaching materials which make their life easy," he says. "If we can move it on a level and actually get a lawyer as a guest teacher, that adds to it."
Children who do not come from professional backgrounds benefit particularly from encountering a lawyer in a setting where they feel free to ask questions about their work and careers, he says.
Mrs Wiseman, who qualified in 1988, was introduced to the project a few months ago by colleagues in her own firm. She visited the school and held a question-and-answer session with pupils about to start S5, several of whom were considering a future career as a lawyer.
She had been especially keen to take part in the Schools Law Web project as she remembered having little exposure to the legal profession in her own schooldays. When she left school, law was still not a common career choice for girls, she explained, and she had no connection to the profession in her family.
"With my school being geographically quite isolated in the south west of Scotland, I probably didn't get terribly much in the way of access to the information that was readily available in the central belt," she added.
"I am very keen to make sure we have as broad a pool of talent to draw from as possible and having been at a state school myself, I was very interested in the whole concept."
Accompanied by Mr Gaffney, she started the session with a quiz asking pupils to think of words they felt described lawyers best. "They said `suits', `clever', that type of thing. There were obvious things like `hardworking' and then somebody said `boring'. I thought it was hysterically funny. That's what is lovely about working with young people," Mrs Wiseman said.
Some pupils had quizzed her on whether she had ever felt inhibited or held back because she had come from a state school, but she was quick to stress that was not the case: "I am immensely proud to come from Stranraer Academy."
Pupils also wanted to know what it was like to be a lawyer, and how hard she had to work. "I told them you have to work hard, but the work we are engaged in is hugely interesting."
The purpose of the project is not to recruit prospective lawyers, but to help children understand the law, Mr Gaffney stressed.
Sometimes experienced lawyers felt nervous before meeting their audience, he said: "I once had a criminal lawyer who told me he was more nervous about our session than the first trial he did in court."
For Mrs Wiseman, the highlight of her visit was a tour around her former school, which had changed dramatically since her time, and being asked to present prizes at a senior prizegiving in the evening.
She said she had gained "as much, if not more" than the pupils, from seeing their enthusiasm for continuing their education and progressing in whichever career they chose for themselves.
"It gives you great hope," she said, adding that she was already in dialogue with the parent council to discuss further opportunities for supporting pupils who were interested in a career in law.
THE SCHOOLS LAW WEB
The Schools Law Web, aimed at P6 to S6, was set up in 2003 by Patrick Gaffney to provide teachers in Scotland with easily usable information and resources on the law without bureaucratic hassle.
Over 250 law firms across Scotland have been involved and have paired up with their local schools to allow them to receive the resources the Schools Law Web provides.
These include weekly citizenship materials, which introduce young people to important matters of citizenship and law. The quiz sheets are prepared by teachers for primary and secondary, and include current news topics to keep pupils interested. Answers are provided, so no further preparation is necessary.
Worksheets on specific issues of the law, including a law-and-order alphabet and information on current issues, such as hacking, are also available for different age groups.
The Schools Law Web site provides information on legal achievers, as well as links to external resources, and information on possible lawyer visits.
Interested schools can sign up at www.schoolslawweb.co.uk.