Last month, our director Jane took part in a workshop with some students at the City Law Firm, Simmons and Simmons. Each student who took part is currently studying at one of the several state-funded sixth form colleges based in Tower Hamlets and all of them are keen on becoming Lawyers one day. The afternoon was led by Shankara Angadi from Twist, a consultancy with the aim of improving career and educational opportunities for as many students as possible. The purpose of the workshop was to explore concepts, ideas and arguments beyond the sixth form syllabus with a view to this being useful in future Law interviews – both academic and professional. Here she explains what she learnt: “It was excellent, as it always is, to have time to work directly with enthusiastic, interesting and interested students. The table I worked with were opinionated (in a good way), outspoken and seemed keen to be successful and express their intellect in discussion. Our discussion quickly focused on the debate concerning the niqab in France. Many of the students had a personal connection with Islam and definite views on what they felt was right or wrong (most agreeing that the French government had got it all wrong – see the news story here.
We started off exploring the topic with passionate and fiery opinions and then we tried to add reasoning and structure to the debate so that we could move further towards having an academic discussion. After all, as a lawyer you need to be able both sides of an argument and reason your way through opposing arguments to the conclusion that best suits you or your client! The debate started to get interesting when we started thinking about how we could defend France’s position and why. Some excellent points were brought up, such as the fact that the French state holds dear the principle of ‘laicite’. As the students understood this, it means that church and state should be separate. An individual can have the religion he/she wants as long as you do not mention it in the public space. On top of this, a person cannot proselytise their faith in France. This point was used to justify the idea of France thinking a visual symbol of Islam could be argued as infringing the rights of the state. It was excellent that the students put this point forward as an academic concept despite disagreeing with this wholeheartedly.
Further, we touched on gender equality, motivations for dressing modestly and freedom of choice in terms of choosing your own clothing in order to understand the impetus behind the decisions of the French government. When all the groups came back together what became clear is that everyone seemed to enjoy the debates on their table, that many different concepts had been touched on and that, with regard to many topics, there was no right or wrong answer. The interesting discussions seemed to come out of understanding that having opinions is absolutely essential in a debate but that thinking about opposing sides of the argument and reasoning around the question in order to come to a conclusion, or test your conclusion is sensible. We discussed the fact that using evidence can also prove to be very convincing in a discussion.”