Reflecting on a Human Rights Internship: JustRight Scotland
This summer I am interning remotely from my room in St Andrews at JustRight Scotland, a human rights law firm based in Glasgow. The firm’s mission states that:
“We use the law to defend and extend people’s rights. We are a team of expert lawyers, working in partnership with like-minded organisations who share our vision of a fairer and more equal Scotland”.
They do this through a combination of daily legal work representing clients to tackle human rights injustices alongside policy work and projects in order to challenge the structural problems which create the injustices they deal with daily.
JustRight Scotland has four legal centres with specialised lawyers to help each centre’s target clientele. The four centres are:
Scottish Women’s Rights Centre (SWRC)
Scottish Refugee and Migrant Centre (SRMC)
Scottish Anti-Trafficking and Exploitation Centre (SATEC)
Scottish Just Law Centre (SJLC)
They also have a policy, research and training hub - JustRight for All, which supports their outreach efforts through legal education and influencing work. My work this summer has been primarily within SRMC and SATEC where I was hired as a Legal Intern through the Robertson Trust.
Since I started University, I have been a Robertson Scholar, receiving a scholarship from the Robertson Trust charity, as well as support from them with other aspects of University life, including mental health, networking and employability training. One particular opportunity provided by the Trust is a grant to provide income for scholars on unpaid internships. Like many students, I believe that unpaid internships should not exist but the Trust does attempt to mitigate these issues.
In April 2021, the Trust approached all scholars asking them to express interest in a field for an internship. The Trust and the scholars then work together to find suitable and relevant internship opportunities for which they could apply. The scholars then go through the normal application process to secure the internship.
When approached, I said I was interested in human rights law and government accountability. I was therefore encouraged to apply for several internships based around research, local governments, non-governmental organisations, criminal defence and corporate law internships, as well as the internship at JustRight Scotland. Out of all of these options, JustRight stood out to me the most because its description emphasised the opportunities it would have to help me learn about the legal field:
“As an intern with JustRight Scotland you will play an important role in supporting the work of our experienced team of human rights lawyers. You will work alongside the lawyers in one of our legal centres of excellence, assisting them with legal casework, research, and administrative tasks.
Tasks will be varied but will include:
Drafting correspondence and other documents.
Researching legal issues and country conditions relevant to clients’ cases.
Using our online case management system to accurately record tasks undertaken.
Compiling court documents and bundles.
Assisting with answering incoming telephone calls and directing them to appropriate staff member/s.
Assisting with outgoing telephone calls to clients, collaboration partners and other relevant professionals and agencies".
Against my better judgment, I put all my eggs in one basket and only applied to this one position. I, fortunately, received an invitation for a Zoom interview. This was an interesting experience; through the Trust, I had done a lot of interview preparation but all of it had been in-person. I found the presence of the screen to be disconcerting and noticed that it is hard to keep eye contact when looking into the corner to make sure you look presentable. However, at the same time, the comfort of a familiar environment was an improvement over an unfamiliar conference room or office.
My interview was roughly an hour long and consisted of a discussion with my eventual line manager, solicitor Farida Elfallah. During the interview, she asked me about my experiences at University, previous employment and extracurricular activities and then ran through some scenarios I might find myself in while working at JustRight. Among the more interesting questions posed was a hypothetical scenario about what I would do if a client - an asylum seeker, was potentially in danger but did not want the police present. This was a tricky question but one I think was important for the process. I answered by stating that the police could potentially cause more harm than good especially when there are immigration concerns and that one must balance the client's wishes with their personal safety risks. I ultimately said I would be inclined not to phone the police unless the client's life was clearly in danger.
Two weeks later I heard back from Farida offering me the internship - starting on 7 June, working remotely from home in St Andrews with a work schedule from Monday to Thursday 9:30-16:45 with a one-hour lunch break. JustRight provided me with a laptop on which to perform my research and writing tasks which featured their internal software LawWare.
At JustRight I spend Monday and Tuesday working within SATEC and Wednesday and Thursday working within SRMC. My work between both centres is broadly similar: writing witness statements, corresponding with the Home Office, carrying out research tasks, making and receiving calls related to cases and preparing legal briefs.
This work is extremely rewarding and challenging as I know it is making a real difference in the lives of people who have experienced horrible and traumatic abuse in their lives. The team at JustRight have afforded me many opportunities to learn and gain new skills, both during the average workday but also through JRSLearns. These teaching sessions consisted of firm-wide training opportunities relating to topics such as subconscious bias and building a trans-inclusive organisation.
An average day working at JustRight (on a day without a JRSLearn or full team meetings) usually goes something like this:
I will open my laptop and log into LawWare at around 9:25 to make sure there are no technical issues.
I will check to see if anyone has emailed me tasks to work on and if there is nothing, I will email the managers I am reporting to that day and ask for tasks.
While I am waiting for a response, I usually have multi-day/week tasks I can chip away at such as creating factsheets for the public, which are yet to be published.
I will then receive an email with the case file details and what I am to do in that file for the day. This could involve making a SAR (Subject Access Request) application asking the Home Office for all the information they have on our clients, writing a witness statement, finding medical records or doing objective evidence research.
Witness statements are some of the most humbling work I do with JustRight; these involve writing the accounts of our clients about their life and their journey to the UK and their trafficking experience, if relevant. While writing these, I take meeting notes where the client describes their account and write them out in the first person. This is sometimes a very challenging task as you are reading and writing about traumatic experiences. However, by doing this you are empowering the voices of the survivors in the asylum process.
People have asked me if I enjoy my internship and the honest answer is no. I find it challenging, interesting and rewarding but the work is not “fun”. However, I would not have it any other way, and would highly recommend anyone interested in a legal internship to apply within the field of human rights law. It is a highly rewarding job with a serious opportunity to make immense positive differences in people's lives.