Role models, soup kitchens & the Obamas: Lawyer Twanieka on her rise from state school to the Bar
Twanieka Alcindor is a non-practising barrister from south London. Having attended both a state school and college, she was the first in her family to attend university. She graduated from the University of Hertfordshire with both a Bachelor of Laws with Honours (2010) and a Masters of Laws for which she received the (2012) Judge’s Award for Excellence.
Winner of a Major Exhibition Scholarship and the Duke of Edinburgh Scholarship from the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, Twanieka completed the Bar Professional Training Course at BPP University in London and was subsequently called to the Bar in the United Kingdom in 2015.
Having spent over a decade working as both a criminal and civil case worker and paralegal in numerous High-Street and City law firms, Twanieka now works as a senior legal consultant instructing and supporting solicitors and barristers across multi-jurisdictions including the UK, Jamaica and Nigeria, in a variety of matters.
MKF chatted to Twanieka about her career to date and views on gender parity in the legal profession.
What are your main challenges on a professional level? How do you plan to overcome these?
My main challenges on a professional level are that I have to work significantly harder than the previous generation of lawyers as the profession is saturated and there are more newly qualified barristers than there are pupillages available each year. In addition, I am sometimes very hard on myself when attempting to achieve my professional goals, especially when things do not always go to plan.
I plan to overcome these challenges by ensuring that whilst I continue to seek pupillage I gain practical experience in my chosen field and explore other areas of law to develop myself into a well-rounded practitioner, and also to remember to enjoy my journey to the Bar, and celebrate each achievement no matter how big or small, along the way.
What are your biggest concerns about having a legal career?
My biggest concerns about having a legal career is that the recent legal aid cuts will deter some of the best advocates away from public defending, which will reduce the amount of senior practitioners at the criminal bar for me to learn from, and be mentored by.
Many are finding that they cannot survive on publicly funded income alone, and I worry that there will be hardly any experienced public defenders left to become judges in the next 30 years, if everyone turns away from such practice.
What excites you the most about the legal profession?
What excites me most about the legal profession is the advocacy. The thought of being able to influence the law through fierce legal argument in my mind presents a chance for me to create my own piece of legal history, using my own skills and style. I am excited to see how both the law and criminal legal practice will develop in the future.
Do you feel the legal profession is inclusive?
I feel that the legal profession has become more inclusive in recent years. There has been an increase in female and ethnic minority senior lawyers and members of the judiciary, many more than there were when I first decided to pursue law 14 years ago.
Be it that the profession is becoming more inclusive towards women, I still believe that the profession has a long way to go, as these categories still exist enough to be noticed.
What support do you feel younger women need from their schools/universities to tackle stereotypes around gender?
I feel that younger women need to be encouraged more by their schools and universities to pursue careers in traditionally male professions, such as law, medicine, science and engineering.
When I was at school I was frequently told it would be too difficult to become a lawyer as a woman and an ethnic minority from a state school. I feel that schools and universities should offer more support to students who want to achieve instead of dissuading them from doing so through the fear that they are aiming too high based on their present circumstances or background.
I strongly support the schools that expose students to positive female role models and which promote a positive attitude towards female achievement.
Who is your role model and why?
My female role model is Michelle Obama. I admire her strength and ability to stand out as an inspiration for women and young girls around the world, in her celebration of female success and achievement.
She has contributed to the societal education of the next generation of female achievers, and helped change the stereotypes that women are to achieve behind closed doors, through fear of being considered untraditional or overconfident.
She makes me proud to be a female achiever and makes me seek to inspire other young women to do the same.
Are you concerned about our political landscape post-Brexit and Trump and how they will affect the advancement of women?
I am concerned about our political landscape post-Brexit and Trump because many of the campaigns leading up to the Brexit vote and election of President Trump were divisive in nature and highlighted prejudices and discriminations that surprisingly still exist against modern-day women.
Whilst the nomination of the United States first female Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton and the United Kingdom’s second female Prime Minister, Teressa May are achievements to be celebrated, the present political landscape is one in which many international women’s rights are hanging in the balance such as the law on abortion, workplace rights, including maternity leave, women's economic welfare and safety from racism and xenophobic attacks.
I fear that despite the hundreds of years that it took for women to advance in society, without careful guidance from the law and government we may find ourselves inadvertently removing or devaluing some of the very women’s rights that we fought so hard to obtain in the first place.
Twanieka founded pro-bono project, ‘Lawyers in the Soup Kitchen’ in 2014. The project operates a free weekly advice clinic at the well known Brixton Soup Kitchen, both educating the community in simple legal matters and providing legal assistance to those who are unable to afford legal representation in a variety of matters.
Twanieka’s team of 12 law students and lawyer volunteers are hosting mock-trial, “Brixton of Trial” at the Royal Courts of Justice in August 2017, in partnership with the National Centre for Citizenship and the Law (NCCL).
Twanieka has recently completed her studies for the Certificate of Legal Education at Norman Manley Law School in Kingston, Jamaica to qualify as an Attorney-at-Law to practice law in the Caribbean. She aims to secure a criminal pupillage within London to begin full practice in the UK.