About a lawyer trying to get young people excited about her profession
Yasmina El Kaddouri is a Ghent lawyer who has been working for the non-profit association TAJO for almost 5 years. She introduces young people to the legal profession. We interviewed her about it.
First, tell us a bit more about vzw TAJO
Mr El Kaddouri: Under the motto "only those who are given opportunities can seize them", the non-profit organisation TAJO is concerned about the fate of socially vulnerable young people in the Ghent and Kortrijk regions. Through interactive practical workshops, they introduce young people aged 10 to 14 to a wide range of professions to inform them about them, but also to motivate them and make them believe that if they do their best now for later they can also excel in these professions.
How did you end up at non-profit organisation TAJO?
Mr El Kaddouri: Christine Mussche, one of the partners of the law firm where I work, knows someone who sits on the board of TAJO asbl. He asked if the firm would put together a day on the theme of law for TAJO asbl. Mr Mussche knows that projects like TAJO's are close to my heart and she asked me if I would be interested in thinking about it. It soon became a bigger project where we now take young people to court for a whole day twice a year.
So what exactly do you do for non-profit organisation TAJO?
Mr El Kaddouri: I worked out a theme day where the young people at the court itself spend a whole day in the role of a lawyer, judge or prosecutor. Inspired by the tragic story of 2-year-old Mawda, the daughter of refugees killed during a police chase, I worked out a story that serves as the basis for a trial that the young people then conduct themselves.
How should I imagine that?
Mr El Kaddouri: The young people are divided into groups, and each group is given a particular role. There is a group of lawyers for the policemen, a group of lawyers for the victim and another group of lawyers defending the parents of the deceased girl. The human traffickers form a third group, a fourth group takes on the role of judge and yet another group that of the prosecutor. Each group is then assigned a fixed teacher who guides them and, depending on the role of the group, prepares with them, for example, a plea or a prosecutor, which they will then present in a courtroom of the Ghent court. Every year, I am committed to managing and coordinating all this, naturally with the support of the TAJO supervisors.
So will lawyers and magistrates also get to wear gowns?
Mr El Kaddouri: Yes! Thanks to the network we have built over the past few years, we have enough gowns for all parties to wear the right one. We also work with interactive material: the young people are given 'cheat sheets' containing a number of standard phrases and explanations of court customs, for example, and how to address the judge, the prosecutor or a lawyer.
On top of that, they also get a tour of the Ghent court building, where we show them the courtrooms, the transit cell where prisoners are locked up awaiting trial and the judges' deliberation room. The young people who take on the role of judge effectively deliberate in that room to come to a decision with which, as in real life, they then return to pronounce it in the courtroom. So with the right vocabulary and in a completely real setting, we do everything we can to give these young people a feel for what it is like in real court and that is a real experience for them.
So is it your intention to get young people excited about becoming lawyers or studying law?
Mr El Kaddouri: Yes, of course that is the ultimate endeavour: to motivate and inspire young people to eventually move on to the world of justice. And we have had some success in that regard.
During those two days, I always try to have a conversation with the young people and ask them what they see themselves doing later. Then you feel that some young people are very articulate and communicative and dream of becoming lawyers or judges. We then give them an extra push by giving them a report at the end of the theme day about the strengths and talents we noticed in each of them.
We are also always ready to answer their sometimes very practical questions, such as: where are there universities where I can study law, how much does it cost to study law, which course is best to follow in secondary school...? These are often young people who, within their families, are the first to get the chance to study further, i.e. first-generation students. I myself am also a first-generation student and have also often missed a role model. I try to fill that lack in young people by sharing my experiences with them and showing them that a higher education is within reach for them too.
I enjoy fanning the fire in such a young person, making them believe in themselves to realise that dream.
In my family, I was the first to get the chance to study further, I often lacked a role model back then. I now try to fill that gap with young people myself by sharing my experiences with them and showing them that a higher education is also within their reach.
When did you know: I am going to study law, I want to be a lawyer?
Mr El Kaddouri: I knew very early on. As a child, I was very articulate and already had an opinion on many things. My parents, my aunts and uncles often called me 'a little lawyer'. Then, as I got a bit older, I felt I had a great sense of justice and often got angry about the injustices in the world.
In secondary school, I then came into contact with two organisations that taught young people how to debate socially relevant issues with the task of coming up with a solution at the end. This involved a lot of research and investigation, but also a lot of negotiation and compromise. I thought this was super and was pretty good at it. I felt I wanted to do something with this. I hesitated for a long time about studying political science, but in the end I chose law because of the idea that as a lawyer you can defend someone's rights. That was and still is my motivation to work as a lawyer.
Do you still commit to other charities?
Mr El Kaddouri: Not in the way I do for TAJO asbl but I am always available to young people who come to me with questions about homework help or questions about studies at college or university. I listen to them, I give them advice and sometimes direct them a little.
What do you take from your law practice into your volunteer work at TAJO?
Mr El Kaddouri: On that TAJO day in court, it is very important to convey a complex message to those young people in a very accessible way, and in my view, that is also an almost necessary quality of a good lawyer namely: to explain difficult, complex issues in an understandable way. So I use my experience as a lawyer in volunteering at TAJO.
And conversely, do you take anything from that volunteer work into your work as a lawyer?
Mr El Kaddouri: But yes, definitely! When you spend a whole day with those young people like that, they ask very honest questions about the future, about society and about the legal profession, and they always give me both feet back on the ground. Then I realise every time again: this is what I do it for, this is so important that I continue to dedicate myself 100 per cent as a lawyer. In which I always approach people without prejudice and without any bias.