While many interpret working in anything remotely corporate as ‘selling your soul’, Law graduate Becca Naylor shows that there’s more to a traditional Law firm than meets the eye. Having always been passionate about human rights, Becca managed to make it the subject of her everyday professional life as a full-time Pro Bono associate and Reed Smith’s Pro Bono Manager across Europe, The Middle East and Asia. Snatching a moment in an international tour (of the Reed Smith offices), Becca speaks to Cambridge Girl Talk about serendipitous school talks, hockey, and her anything but ordinary professional life.
Interview by Xanthe Fuller
So, what do you do now?
I’m a pro bono lawyer at Reed Smith, I’m responsible for managing our pro bono work across Europe the Middle East and Asia. Pro bono is the free legal advice we provide to charities, non-profits and low income individuals. We work alongside amazing charities to support refugees, prisoners, victims of domestic violence and work on projects to combat human trafficking and female genital mutilation.
How did you get there?
Nick Yarris came to speak at my school when I was 16, he inspired me to study law. Nick was on death row for over 20 years before he was exonerated. I was shocked by this and other injustices. I started to follow the work of Clive Stafford Smith and Reprieve.
I went on to study law at university, applied for vacation schemes and training contracts and did the LPC in London. In the gap before starting my training contract I volunteered at Reprieve in their abuses in counter terrorism team, assisting with their work on Guantanamo Bay, drone strikes, and torture and rendition cases. I then started my training contract at Reed Smith and at the first opportunity went on our pro bono secondment to Liberty where I worked in their advice and information team. During my training contract the pro bono role became available and I applied for the job, I then did my training contract and the pro bono role for a year and when I qualified I became a full time pro bono lawyer.
Describe a typical day.
A wonderful part of my job is that there is no typical day. I have a lot of meetings, with NGOs who we work with and lawyers across my firm who want to help with pro bono or have ideas for new initiatives. I present at group meetings, one of my key roles is to get as many of our lawyers involved as I can. I travel to conferences and visit our offices abroad and I spend a lot of time answering emails. I also do legal work myself, recently I have been working with Safe Passage and lawyers at the Migrant Law Project on cases for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe trying to join their family in the UK, this involves meeting with the relatives, drafting witness statements and preparing applications to the Home Office.
What do you like about it?
I love the variety, each day is a challenge and I’m rarely sitting at my desk. The NGOs we work with are inspiring and doing incredible work to support vulnerable clients and it’s great that we have so many enthusiastic lawyers at Reed Smith who want to help too. Our lawyers come to me with ideas for organisations they would like to support and how we might be able to work together.
… and is there anything you dislike about it?
Not really… the volume of emails can be challenging and I have to remind myself to be strategic rather than just reactive to emails all day.
How did your Cambridge experience prepare you for it?
I loved my time at Cambridge, it was great preparation for the working world as you have to learn to juggle everything and still enjoy yourself. I played university hockey and this meant I had to be disciplined with my time if I wanted to get my work done and also go out with my friends. It taught me to be efficient and instilled in me the importance of work life balance. My law degree was also helpful, I enjoyed the policy debates around the law and how this impacts on individuals, this is very relevant to my work now.
Five years out of Cambridge: are you where you thought or hoped you’d be?
I hoped that I would be able to work in human rights at some point, however when I left Cambridge I had no idea what job that might be. I loved my time volunteering at Reprieve and then I went to a commercial law firm to do my training contract. I picked a firm that does a large amount of pro bono as I thought I could combine some pro bono with the commercial work I was doing. I looked at the pro bono role in a few firms and thought that would be an amazing job but I never thought one would come up or that I would get it.
What are your hopes for the next year?
I hope that we will continue to develop more ways to support vulnerable clients who don’t have access to justice. I work in a wonderful community of law firms and NGOs, law firms collaborate on pro bono and we set up partnerships together with NGOs to work out how we can best support the community that we live in.
What’s your pipe dream? Be bold.
My pipe dream would be that we had a fully funded legal aid system around the world that meant everyone had equal access to a lawyer to enforce their rights.
Name three women you look up to and why.
Jayne Fleming, my US pro bono colleague, who has worked for over a decade to support vulnerable refugees around the world and resettle them to a country where they feel safe and can restart their lives. Jayne is never deterred and finds innovative ways to advocate for her clients.
Maya Foa, Director at Reprieve, who started out as a volunteer in the organisation and came up with an idea to try and halt executions in the US. Maya has been instrumental in stopping the supply of drugs used in lethal injections and this has led to all but a few states being unable to execute.
Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, who works tirelessly to raise awareness about sexism that women experience on a day to day basis and how we can all promote equal rights for everyone.
Do you have any words of wisdom for students or recent graduates about to enter into the working world?
Be open minded – you never know what opportunities might arise.
Do something you love – think about what will motivate you to get out of bed and go to work everyday.
Keep a work life balance – no matter how much you enjoy your work it’s important to have a balance and make time to relax and switch off.