Why I Joined Forces With Mass Ndow-Njie to Build Bridging the Bar
Part Two: Sometimes the Mission Chooses You
How I met Mass
I publish this just over a year to the day that Mass asked me to join forces with him to build Bridging the Bar.
Mass and I met at a Black Men in Law (BML) event in the autumn of 2019. When meeting new people, I am often guided partly by observable characteristics, and partly by my instincts. Both of these evaluation methods informed me that Mass was an optimistic, focused and confident professional who carried himself with integrity. We spoke briefly at the BML event and exchanged details.
A couple of weeks later Mass (being a committee member at Urban Lawyers, a charity founded by Dr Tunde Okewale MBE) requested that I assist Urban Lawyers in their upcoming annual careers conference by appearing as an ‘Urban Lawyers Hero’. This involved speaking to dozens of aspiring barristers throughout the day, offering them guidance and advice from my perspective. Again, we spoke on a few occasions at this event, and I expressed my long-held intentions to contribute to the Bar in a meaningful and tangible way (for more on this, read part 1).
Throughout December 2019, Mass and I had a few conversations about different ways that we could potentially manifest our plans to contribute to the principle of ‘equality of opportunity’ and the future of the Bar. We went back and forth with a few ideas, some great, some useless! He had been busy speaking to numerous contacts from various organisations trying to devise an actionable plan that we could build upon. I had been thinking about how I could make a contribution which extended beyond just giving some of my spare time to help a few people here and there.
This culminated in a conversation in late December 2019 when he pitched to me the germinal idea of Bridging the Bar (You can read about how the idea of Bridging the Bar came to Mass here). Even in its early stages, it was clear that the ‘Bridging the Bar’ concept would be a bold and daring project which hadn’t previously been attempted at the Bar. The good news was that we could use elements of the blueprints which had come before us in slightly different spheres (we learned from organisations such as Aspiring Solicitors and Urban Lawyers ). This was a way of bringing to fruition the ideas that we (and many others) shared about the great untapped potential of aspiring barristers from underrepresented backgrounds, and eliminating the barriers that those future professionals faced. Barriers that we had also come face to face with ourselves. This was more than exciting!
“I would envision you taking on a leadership role alongside me to build this organisation. There will be a lot of work to do but I think between us and the team we can build, we’ll have the skills and resources to do it.” Mass explained.
And then came the question.
“You don’t have to answer now, perhaps take a few days to think about. But when you’re ready, let me know if you’re in?”
I said “yes, absolutely!” in my head. I didn’t say this out loud because I have a tendency to say yes to different projects and then overcommit myself to the point of potentially negatively impacting my ability to contribute to each project (experience is a great teacher!). A leadership role at Bridging the Bar would demand responsibility, emotional intelligence and the best version of myself. I wanted to make sure that if I said yes, it was with a full appreciation of what this commitment would entail, and a certainty on my part that I would be able to give this project the time, effort and energy it deserves whilst fulfilling my other commitments.
So at the time I replied, “My initial thoughts are positive, but let me take a few days to think about it and make sure its something I can commit to.”
When we spoke again a few days later, I confirmed my commitment and willingness to play my role in building the foundations of an organisation which truly positively impacts the prospects of aspiring barristers from underrepresented backgrounds. The rest, as they say, is history.
My Contribution to the Bar
During the period between when I secured pupillage (May 2019) and when I started (October 2020) I had a lot of time to think about what kind of career I want to sculpt, and how best to positively impact the profession. I think it is important for all of us to recognise that everyone has different roles to play, particularly when it comes to the issue of tackling unjust inequalities.
For example, some people are the advocates for change. Every effective movement needs these people. These are the articulate, analytical and persuasive individuals who highlight, dissect and present the core of the problem to those who might otherwise have overlooked or tolerated it. the advocates also often provide workable solutions to the problems they highlight. In my view, champions such as the Secret Barrister (whomever they may be), Alexandra Wilson, Mike Etienne and Abimbola Johnson are (aside from their other great personal and professional qualities) amongst the best of today’s generation at conveying these reoccurring problems to wide and diverse audiences.
Then there are the volunteers. These are the tireless people who are constantly on the lookout for ways in which they can offer their time, energy and support to progressive ideas and new ways to improve the status quo. Effective volunteers energise ideas. They proliferate a progressive idea by passing it on to like minded people and encouraging others to offer their support, bringing an idea like Bridging the Bar to thousands of people in just a few weeks. Sometimes a volunteer is a single person. Sometimes it is a set of chambers. A great volunteer is often a person who supports an idea or project not from the disposition of performance or popularity, but because they recognise its inherent utilitarian and moral good. They also often seek to learn more about how they can be a better volunteer, through educating themselves about the problem, and finding out how they can be effective solution contributors.
There are of course other roles to play, not least those who lobby to implement the forces of change at a regulatory level, and many others. In my view, knowing the role one is best suited to play is something that comes with self awareness and an assessment of where one can make an impact, given the circumstances and the environment they find themselves in.
Where do I fit in to all of this?
Whilst I am capable and have on several occasions played the role of ‘the advocate’ or ‘the volunteer‘ (albeit perhaps not as emphatically as those aforementioned) some of my strengths lie in emotional intelligence, vision implementation and creating systems which utilise the strengths of others, whilst also helping them to achieve their individual goals. In this respect, it seems to me that the best use of my skills and spare time is to contribute to the building of an organisation which is capable of implementing the change we all need to see at the Bar.
My journey so far has taught me about the power of effective networking, the insulation and dynamism that comes with having a team of ‘dangerously competent’ committee members, and evidence of the idea that we can go further and accomplish more when we collaborate. In undertaking my role as Trustee and Deputy Chair at Bridging the Bar, I have found a way of deploying my strengths (and indeed improve upon some of my weaknesses) in a direction which promotes the positive tangible change I would like to see in the profession.
In my view, Bridging the Bar is an excellent example of combining and leveraging the complimentary skills, qualities and perspectives of all members of our talented team. I would like to think that my teammates have found a way to synergise their own characteristics and strengths with our collective mission, and it is my responsibility to ensure that this remains the case. Our ability to identify and facilitate this synergistic process is in my view what has made our first 12 months of activity so successful.
What does this mean for you?
Perhaps you could be an advocate for change, a volunteer, or build an organisation? Perhaps you could do all three! Perhaps you can affect change as an individual, or perhaps you could form a team. (Click here to discover how you can support us)
The takeaway point is this: if you want a leave a mark in your own way, there is no set pathway. You will need to pinpoint your strengths and forge a way to use them constructively towards a cause you care about. Take the time to find and connect with people who have a similar vision to you, but perhaps have a different skill set which compliments your own. Learn from them, discuss and develop your ideas with them, take action with them. Hold nothing back. Bridging the Bar has certainly proven that the ‘equality of opportunity’ mission has a role for everyone.