Authors:Katherine Adams
Last updated:2024-05-24
Postcard from North Wales: Power to the people of North Wales
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Postcard from North Wales
The law is a potentially powerful tool. The challenge, says Katherine Adams, is to ensure the power that lawyers have is passed to our clients and local communities.
We have been in the throes of recruiting for three key roles at North Wales Community Law (NWCL). Filling employment posts is a challenge across the country for our sector, possibly all the more so in rural areas like ours.
Recruiting colleagues always feels like a particularly odd combination of sales pitch and appeal, one that reminds me of looking for housemates when I lived in London. You want to put yourself out there, but not too forcefully. You want to be distinctive, but not so much so that you accidentally put off the right people. You want to be appealing, but also honest and transparent. After all, what’s the good of finding a housemate only for them to leave again in six months because it isn't what they were expecting?
Whenever I’ve gone to meet potential housemates or attended a job interview, I’ve always seen it as much as an opportunity to suss out them as the other way around. I think that’s healthy and I encourage friends and colleagues to do the same. ‘Just apply’ is always my advice to anyone hesitant about a prospective new job. ‘If you don’t get an interview, it wasn’t for you. And if you do, meeting the hiring manager and the way the process is conducted will give you a feel for whether or not you want to take the role.’ The balance of power should be equal. We all want to find the best fit for our needs, strengths and ambitions. When it works, it’s a two-way street that benefits everyone. In hiring decisions, both parties have the power to choose. However, the onus falls squarely on recruiters to make sure that the culture, development opportunities, and levels of challenge and support deliver what they promise. In my role as manager at NWLC, it will be my responsibility to ensure we achieve that for our new recruits when they are in post.
Power has been a theme in my reflections this month. Recently, on a hot Friday evening, I sat in the garden of my former university tutor and we chatted about jobs, our lives, and the differences between what we each thought our roles would be and what they actually are. My tutor commented: ‘You have quite a lot of power in your job.’ I recoiled. Power has never been high on my list of priorities, and I’m distinctly wary of people and institutions that seek it. Far from enjoying any sense of power, I’m acutely aware of my responsibilities: to the people I manage, our funders, our charitable objects and, more than anything, to the people seeking our help. This is no different from responsibilities I’ve had in other roles, so why the perceived difference in power?
What signifies greater power to others, perhaps, is those two weighty words: ‘The Law.’ After all, the terms ‘laws’ and ‘powers’ are often used interchangeably, and intrinsic to the institutions of law are traditions and practices that emphasise their power and distinguish from everyone else those on the inside who understand how the system works.
When I started as development manager here in 2022, my first week took me to a sector event in London. Ahead of attending, I felt hugely intimidated, assuming that everyone there would be eminent, authoritative and powerful. A good dose of impostor syndrome, perhaps, but there was more to it than that. As a non-lawyer (my background is community work, charity management and social policy), I had preconceptions about who lawyers were and therefore some doubts about to what extent I would be welcomed. I was wrong to be worried. I was made very welcome, and I realised that my experience and perspective as someone outside the legal world came with their own quiet power and authority. At the same time, I was highly impressed by the expertise, experience and skill in that room. But more than that, I was humbled that the people in it were committed to using those hard-won attributes for the good of people who needed them most.
Being told that I had power made me uncomfortable, but I see real power is the opportunity to make change. The challenge for all of us at NWCL, including my new colleagues when they are in post, will be to use the power that the law provides to ensure that that power is passed to our clients and the local communities we serve to redress deep-seated and long-standing imbalances.