Shauneen Lambe is the founder and executive of Just For Kids Law. The charity runs a number of programmes aimed at providing support, advocacy and assistance to young people with a variety of needs.
What inspired you to start a non-profit?
I always believed that providing legal support is a public service – not only a money-making enterprise.
Anyone who has become entangled in legal proceedings will tell you how complex and stressful it is – and the outcome can affect their whole life. Now, imagine that same stress for a child; maybe on their own, with no ability to pay for legal advice.
Children come into contact with the legal system all the time. It is estimated that two million children a year are left to try and resolve complex rights related problems on their own.
I set up Just for Kids Law, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, because I wanted to ensure that children and young people had access to good quality advice and support whatever their background and circumstances.
What is your mission?
Just for Kids Law works with children and young people providing by:
- providing tailored holistic support so a child or young person moves from crisis to stability;
- litigation, research and campaigns to change law and policy;
- working to uphold the rights of children and young people;
- supporting children and young people to speak out for positive change.
What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?
I am not really my own boss, because all the money we receive is donated to us.
Rightly, I am accountable to my board of Trustees and ultimately the public through the Charity Commission.
It has, however, been incredible to found an organisation from scratch. The greatest challenge is being able to bring in enough money to make sure we are not turning children away; the greatest reward is seeing the lives of the young people we work with transformed and watching them achieve success.
What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures?
A quote I often share with staff and young people at Just for Kids Law is one by Martin Luther King Jr: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Persistence it seems to me is the key. There are always going to be setbacks but believing in what you are doing and that you are there for the long haul allows you to see beyond the day to day set backs and problems.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
I run a leadership program with young people and I tell them the story about how as a young lawyer I was sent into court to help a teenager who was facing the death penalty. His trial had already started and it was clear that we were not going to be able to change the outcome, no matter how hard we tried. I watched as a jury of 12 people decided to sentence him to death, for a crime he hadn’t committed.
Every part of me wanted to run away from the case. It was too upsetting; it was too difficult to take on the whole system; it all seemed too much. But I couldn’t let down his mother after what she had been through. Nor could I live with the injustice. I worked as a part of a team on his case for five years. At the end of those five years, he was exonerated and walked free from death row. A few years later, his sister invited me to be her bridesmaid; he was the groomsman. I got to walk down the aisle of the church with a young man who I had first met in prison facing execution. It was an amazing moment. He is a father now working and supporting his young family.
How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?
When I was a young adult, I was always looking for people who inspired me. I was lucky to be a waitress at the River Café, when I was at law school. My boss Ruth Rogers was a huge influence. She took me under her wing and showed me that it was possible for a woman to have a very successful career, be a great mother and have a happy supportive relationship. It has been the best example for me throughout the years.
Another mentor to me was my boss, once I became a lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, who founded the anti-death penalty charity Reprieve. Clive taught me to challenge and question perceived wisdom. Any part of me that is a good lawyer I learnt from him. And I still think about all I learnt from that organisation when we act for children at Just for Kids Law.
What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?
Well, I am the worst networker in the traditional sense. I always felt that I was a failure at it, until someone pointed out to me networking includes all the people you know already, rather than just new people, making everyone including those close to you understand why you are passionate about something. I think that passion is contagious. We have been lucky at Just for Kids Law to be supported by so many different people, but I hope it is because they believe in what we are doing.
What are you tips for scaling an organisation and how do you plan for and manage growth?
Scaling our organisation was hard. I always had the ambition, but the implementation seemed slower than the aspiration. I have been really lucky to be supported by various funders and organisations with more experience than I had. Being open, listening and taking advice, but also knowing when to challenge that advice has been my way.
What does the future hold for you?
Who knows but hopefully it will be good. I love what I do, so I am really lucky. We would love to expand our services to support young people across the UK, rather than just in London. In order to maximise the amount of help we can give, despite limited resources, we have created a scheme called Advocacy Year, where graduates spend a year working with us, after receiving intensive training, supporting young people in the community.
Shauneen is a finalist for the Veuve Clicquot Social Purpose Award which will take place on 9 May.