May 16, 2016

Interview With The Founder Of Urban Lawyers Tunde Okewale

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



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