‘Open Justice – Just Deserts’ by Jamahl Peterkin

Jamahl received a 2019 Open Justice Award for an outstanding contribution to Open Justice pro bono activities. In this post he reflects on his experience of studying W360: Justice in Action which included working in prisons and providing free legal advice to members of the public in the Open Justice Online Law Clinic.

Introduction

Open Justice module provided me with challenges, hurdles, experiences and insights into practising law. The module prepared me for professional practise; both academically and practically and challenged me to achieve my true potential. The module was rewarding, motivating and at times somewhat exhausting, which is perhaps a fair reflection of what to expect from a career in Law. The culmination of years of academic study leading towards my LLB degree culminated in my work with Open Justice, which was the cherry on the cake.

The Learning Curve

Open Justice provided a steep learning curve which allowed me to excel in professional practice under supervision of qualified solicitors. Prior to Open Justice I had no experience in researching and presenting to an audience on legal matters, no experience offering legal advice, no experience working in prisons and no experience working on online legal platforms. This module added a dynamic learning experience which equipped me with valuable transferable skills. The module pushed me out of my comfort as prior modules had been mainly academically based and I had yet been challenged in a practical setting.

I have gained a wealth of skills and experience during this module in a diverse range of topics. Learning how to communicate effectively, to present to a variety of audiences, to hold online conferences, to research and offer advice and learn how to use online legal advice platforms are just a fraction of some of the skills learnt.

The online law clinic provided me with experience in working as a team on legal issues as well as learning different real-life legal situations such as breach of contract and subject access request legalities. The prison law project gave me the opportunity to research and offer advice to prison inmates and gain experience working in prison institutions. Both projects allowed me to gain practical experience and for my clients to get free legal advice. Just deserts for all involved.

Future Career Opportunities

The Open Justice module has opened up further opportunities and career possibilities. The experience I have had working on the Clio case management platform has equipped me with skills in administering advice on online platforms and the ability to research issues for clients. I have gained practical experience in handling contract law issues which will enhance my career opportunities. This experience has been accompanied by the experience gained working in prison, providing transferable presentation skills and also insight into the professional  etiquette and processes relevant to working within a prison environment.

Just Deserts

This module has added immeasurable value to my CV and has provided invaluable professional experience. It has equipped me professionally and academically to be prepared for a career in law. This module has been the cherry on the cake to my law degree. I am due to finish my LLB with valuable practical experience. I have since been contacted to do work in prison institutions and offer advice on contract law cases. Open Justice – Just Deserts, the proof is in the pudding.

‘W360: Feel the fear, and do it anyway – You could be very glad you did !’ by Susan Desfontaines

Now, I’m going to be frank. When I was considering my optional module at the end of my degree I was concerned about W360 Justice in Action (the Open Justice module) because, as a relatively new addition to the Open University’s offering, it was a bit of an unknown quantity and the success of my overall degree grade rested on how well I could do in the last two 30 credit modules. I had a big interest in social justice, so it had real appeal, but I was particularly concerned about the team-working element and whether, despite my best efforts, this could negatively impact on my grades.

I was also the girl that started this degree not quite knowing where I wanted to go with it, but who had always said from the start “it definitely wont be criminal law.“ Ha! How wrong I was.

Once I embarked on W360 I decided to get fully out of my comfort zone and signed up to the Freedom Law Clinic project to participate in a criminal appeals case, the reasoning being that I would get the most out of the module by experiencing an area of law that “ I definitely wasn’t going to get into. “ I also taught A level Law at the local school, which I was able to add to my pro-bono experience portfolio.

At the law clinic I was assigned to a joint enterprise murder case and became increasingly engaged in what I was doing. It was challenging, and the workload every bit as demanding as I had been warned it would be, but I thoroughly enjoyed the practical application of the legal skills that I had developed over the course of my degree studies.

I also used the opportunity to improve on my team working skills, which, because of my need for control, had been of such concern to me. I was well supported by my assigned tutor, who dedicated time, effort and frank feedback into showing me a better way to work well within my team and deal with the frustration I felt when others did not apply the same work ethic I demanded of myself.

The experience has transformed the way I view myself as a person and a professional, it has ignited my interest in pro-bono’s relationship to justice and in criminal law itself. I also gained real insight into my own strengths and weaknesses.

As a result I will be starting with a local authority next month as their legal officer, prosecuting rogue landlord cases in the Magistrates’ Court and case managing and briefing advocates for cased to be dealt with at the Crown Court. I will be training on the job, before being assigned my own independent case load and be responsible for deciding if the cases and evidence collected meet the CPS tests.

It’s a role I never envisaged taking up at the start of my degree, it is invaluable experience as I start my legal career and it is in no small part a direct result of my W360 experience, from both my viewpoint and that of the interview panel who doubled the length of my allocated interview slot in order to discuss the experience!

W360 is challenging and by no means easy or comfortable, but if you engage in it wholeheartedly you may well be shocked with just how much it has to give back in terms of personal and career development.