To celebrate Pro Bono Week 2023, University of Bristol Law graduate, Raeesa Rajmohamed (LLB 2018, LLM 2019) shares her first-hand experience of working at the Law School’s Human Rights Law Clinic, and provides her insight into what she found most inspiring, how the experience has helped to shape her future, and what advice she would give to students starting out in the Clinic.
Why did you decide to study law at Bristol?
I had the privilege of travelling from Canada to England in March 2015, six months before my first term commenced. I had an offer from Bristol and a few other UK institutions that were just as renowned and comparable on paper, but I was keen to see them for myself before I accepted any offer.
My last stop was Bristol, and I attended a University of Bristol Law School Offers Holders Event. It’s safe to say it was incredible.
“I will never forget the students – everyone seemed incredibly happy to be there. They not only wanted to be there, it was as if they also wanted me to join too. It was as if they wished me to be a part of something they loved. There was an energy and vibrancy, and it was contagious.”
It just took that one day, immersed in the law school with current law students, to make my decision. I remember walking out of the offer-holders event, turning to my mother and declaring, “I’m going to Bristol.” It was as easy as that.
What most inspired you about working at the Human Rights Law Clinic?
In studying and advocating for human rights, it is so easy to feel helpless. One could attend a dozen protests, but despite the good protesting brings (it is an important part of our democracy!), standing there will ultimately not physically bar the injustice itself from taking place. The feeling of powerlessness in the face of atrocities and injustice can be sickening.
“The Human Rights Law Clinic allows you to contribute to the cause and be a ripple in a larger wave of tangible change.”
It is incredibly rewarding to contribute to this field, and I cannot comprehend one living life without doing what they can to support/help conquer injustice and achieve equality – the Human Rights Law Clinic allows you to practically do this – it allows you to actually achieve change.
Has your voluntary work influenced the area of law you would like to pursue / your future plans?
There is a large leap between ‘study’ and ‘practice,’ and sometimes one can find oneself passionate about a topic in academia but not feel the same way about it in its real-life application.
“Voluntary experience in the field, whether through the Human Rights Law Clinic or Bristol Law Clinic, which I also had the privilege to be a part of, allows students to gain firsthand practical experience which can provide certainty or confidence in the pursuit of that field of work.”
In a cliche manner, I have always been keen to do human rights work, yet the HRIC sustained that wish and has always reinforced it by providing me with practical insight and experience that comes with pursuing work in the field. I was actually having a real-life effect on the world, and it is incredibly fulfilling.
What have you been working on since leaving the Human Rights Law Clinic?
I completed my law degree in 2018, and just before I completed my LLM dissertation in 2019, I moved to West Africa with the HRIC to lecture law at the University of The Gambia. Upon completing this tenure in 2020, which was sadly cut short due to the pandemic, I was invited by South African-based lawyers to write a chapter on Female Genital Mutilation in a book on violence against women, which was published by Springer Nature/Palgrave Macmillan in 2021.
I was Called to the Bar of England and Wales in 2022, and, upon being personally requested, I am currently writing a chapter on Equality and Law in Personal Status for the French National Research Agency; the book itself will be published by Routledge.
I work pro bono on confidential human rights cases with the Human Rights Implementation Centre, sit on the Board of Directors of the Bristol Improv Theatre and sit on the Advisory Board of the HRIC. I was also incredibly honoured to be the recipient of the Alumni Association Community Award 2023.
What words of advice would you give a student starting out in the Human Rights Law Clinic?
I think it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. There is a team of professionals here to support you, and they, too, want to see you succeed. Do not hesitate to ask for help, but also do not underestimate yourself. I think it can be easy to suffer from imposter syndrome when working on real cases at any stage of one’s career, and it’s important to remind yourself how hard you’ve worked and how much you’ve achieved. You were chosen to be a part of the clinic for a reason, and that is worth celebrating. Remember, you have earned it, and you are capable. It is a lot of work, and it is not easy, but I promise you, it is worth it.
Find out more
The Human Rights Law Clinic offers our students a unique opportunity to play a practical role in the drive to make social justice a reality for all, working with international, regional and national organisations engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights law. Discover more on their website.