Justine Thornton tells girls at Sion-Manning School to “aim high”
3 February 2015
Justine Thornton, accomplished environmental lawyer, spoke to a hall of over 200 girls from years 9 and 10 from Sion-Manning Girls’ School in Ladbroke Grove, London. After the talk, she led a discussion with the student leadership team, and students with a keen interest in law.
Justine began the main talk by taking about law as a career, reflecting on some of her most notable cases so far. In Nigeria for example, she helped 16,500 locals from a fishing village by the Bodo river to win a £55 million settlement after a major oil spill. She had had to undergo kidnap training and work with interpreters in order to bring about the landmark ruling – a far cry from the stuffy stereotypes of law.
Next, she discussed the matter of balancing family life with a successful career. “Being a barrister is fantastic for being family friendly”, Justine said, “as I am self-employed. You might work late where necessary, so that you can see your kids the next day in their school play”. She advised the girls to make a point of asking their partners frankly for their support in pursuing the career they love, effectively a two-way relationship.
Justine finished by emphasising two crucial tips to succeed: aim high, and be confident. “Women often underestimate their abilities, while many men do the opposite”. She encouraged the girls to emulate women they admire, and to show confidence.
During the Q & A session, the girls were interested in the legal areas in which Justine had worked, and how she had gone from criminal law to working with the environment.
When asked about the qualities of a successful lawyer, Justine spoke about the need for self-discipline and intellectual tenacity. In an ongoing case involving a pipeline through the Colombian countryside, she had had to attain rapid expertise relating to soil erosion and local rainfall, so as to be able to cross-examine corporate specialists well through the medium of an interpreter.
Having defended victims of domestic abuse, Justine also explained that emotional sensitivity was important so as to support fragile clients effectively.
During the talk with older students interested in law, Justine outlined her path from a comprehensive school in Nottingham to working as a barrister. She had been drawn to environmental law after a mentor remarked that “the environment has no voice”. She discussed perseverance and the challenges facing women in the profession, and agreed with the girls that to follow one’s passion in life is key.