Lucy Barnes standing in side profile with her arms crossed


Lucy Barnes, a care-experienced future pupil barrister, explores how we can move towards inclusion and visibility for aspiring lawyers who have experience of the foster care system and how representation of care-experienced people enhances access to justice.

“The civil rights issue of our time” – Josh MacAlister OBE, Chair of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care 2022 and founder of social work charity Frontline.

Care-experienced people are under-represented across the legal professions. I grew up in foster care between the ages of 13-16. At 16, I fell off the care cliff when I stopped receiving any local authority support. I know from personal experience that growing up in foster care poses many career barriers. We grow up being told to “be realistic” about aspiring for any career, let alone a career in law.

Given the statistics, it is easy to understand why: CIVITAS, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, produced a report in 2023, ‘Breaking the care ceiling’, which revealed that only 14% of care-experienced young people attend university compared to 47% of all young people. Further, the Association for Young People’s Health reports that figures published by the Department for Education and the ONS show that in 2021 41% of care leavers aged 19-21 in England were NEET (not in education, employment or training) compared to 9.2% of the general population aged 18-21.

In this blog I hope to persuade you that inclusion within the legal profession must extend to care experience and that goes beyond ticking a box. We need a narrative shift. We are not a group to be looked down on or pitied. We are valuable. And our value will enrich the legal profession. Provided we are given a chance.

Fostering care-experienced talent

I know first-hand the difficulties of embarking on a legal career as a care-experienced person. Upon starting my career, I had no social capital or any connections in law. I taught myself how to network, the expected legal etiquette, the unwritten codes of the profession and legal language as I had no one to guide me.

Beyond that, I had no ‘bank of mum and dad’. At every hurdle, I faced a prohibitive cost to success. If I did not work two part-time jobs at university to survive, I would have been homeless. If I had not been awarded a scholarship to fund my Bar studies, I would not have been able to become a barrister. Whenever I undertook work experience placements, I had to take time off from the paid work which was funding my rent and food to do so. This meant that it cost me money to get any work experience. This is why funded work experience placements are vital for their accessibility to care-experienced young people.

Care experience fosters the qualities which can make a great barrister. I got to where I am with grit. That grit, I know, will make me a successful and resilient barrister. Whilst I have faced numerous hurdles in my life, I know that being from care is what formed the advocate in me. I had to persuade social workers of what my best interests were from a young age. Law, then, is a natural career path for us. We are resilient, tenacious, hard-working, people-centric and intuitive: the hallmarks of a successful barrister. If society is not tapping into this pool of talent, it is missing out.

It is not enough that we include a box in Equality and Diversity forms to tick if we have spent time in local authority care. Many of us may not want to tick that box due to the stigma that is associated with being care-experienced. The profession must understand care experience and trauma and work collaboratively to dissolve the stigma we face. This is why I set up Lawyers Who Care (LWC). We train our mentors in care experience and trauma as well as building a sense of community for care-experienced people and changing the narrative on what we can achieve.

Instead of telling our young people to “be realistic” about a career in law, we must instead show them that we are all behind them, lifting them up to become lawyers.

The power of lived experience

We inspire trust in the legal profession most effectively when our clients feel represented by their lawyers. If you work in criminal or family law, given that 24% of the prison population and 26% of the homeless population is care-experienced, according to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care Report, there is a high likelihood that you will represent someone with care experience. Representation by care-experienced lawyers is therefore vital. How can we effectively be a voice for care-experienced clients and share their stories in court if we do not yet understand, or give visibility to, care experience? For care-experienced people, access to the profession is access to justice.

I am where I am in my career not in spite of my background, but because of it. As LWC grows, I hope that the legal profession grows to understand care experience and trauma and see the value that care-experienced lawyers bring.

To support care-experienced aspiring lawyers:

  • Sign up your chambers as a mentorship organisation with LWC by contacting [email protected] 
  • Donate to LWC on a monthly or annual basis:
  • Follow us on social media. X: @lawyerswhocare_ LinkedIn: Lawyers Who Care #WeAreLawyersWhoCare
  • Provide paid work experience for care-experienced aspiring lawyers - LWC can help with this
  • Establish outreach programs to include partnering with Virtual Schools who support care-experienced young people
  • Review recruitment processes to recognise the additional hurdles that care-experienced people face and give recognition for contextual factors in recruitment

Lucy Barnes is CEO and Co-Founder of Lawyers Who Care CIC (LWC) the UK’s first legal mentoring organisation for care-experienced aspiring lawyers. She was called to the Bar in November 2021 and begins her pupillage this October at East Anglian Chambers.