Mind the (Legal Educational) Gap: How the Target Law Mentoring Programme Seeks to Close It

by Amanda Amaeshi, penultimate year L.L.B. student.

Education and the law are powerful tools which can transform one’s life and the world for the better. Disappointingly, however, in the UK there continues to be a stark lack of diversity in both higher education and in all areas of the legal practice, specifically in relation to low socio-economic status and racially minoritised backgrounds.

There are many barriers which young people from these under-represented groups may face, which can impact their chances of going to university. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Not getting as many (if any) co-curricular opportunities or work experience, which can be used to build up the vital skills, experiences, and attributes that universities look for.
  • Not getting the opportunity to choose the subjects they want/need to take due to their school not having a wide enough range of subject choices.
  • Additional responsibilities – e.g. being a young carer, working part-time in order to support family income – may mean that the student is unable to spend as much time on their studying, exam preparation, and writing applications.
  • Not knowing anyone who has been to university/school not providing enough support in relation to applying to university – thus the student may have nowhere, or may not know where, to go for help.
  • Teachers unfairly underpredicting grades: this can hit ethnic minorities especially hard due to racist biases.
  • Especially at the high-ranking universities, not seeing many students who are from a similar background to them represented in higher education and hearing negative stories about marginalised students can make attending those institutions not a desirable option.
  • Especially for city-based universities like UCL, being unable to afford moving far away or living in a big city with increased costs, especially now during this cost of living crisis (even means tested student loans/scholarships, if the student is even made aware of these funds, may not be enough to financially support them).
  • Any combination of these factors can additionally result in lack of self-confidence or imposter syndrome, and thus the student may not be motivated to apply despite being just as deserving of a place as their more privileged peers.

It’s crucial for there to be diversity amongst those studying Law and pursuing legal careers – not merely in a tokenistic, “tick box exercise” way, but in a way that ensures under-represented people are able to not only survive but thrive in academic and professional settings where their voices and experiences are meaningfully listened to and appreciated.

Everyone deserves to have the opportunities to succeed in life, regardless of their background. By having people from diverse backgrounds and life experiences, a variety of skills and perspectives can be utilised to learn from and shape the world to the benefit of everyone. Whilst I disagree with the phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see” – it’s erasive of the fact that someone did initially have to be what they couldn’t see – having visible representation does make it easier for currently under-represented groups to access various sectors, including Law, in the future.

The Target Law Programme:

In November 2022, there was a call for LLB students to apply to be a mentor on the Target Law programme. Just a few weeks prior, I had spoken as a panellist at a Black Access Conference organised by UCL’s African and Caribbean Society, in which I shared my advice regarding exam preparation and the university application process. That event inspired me to do more to support under-represented students; I was keen to do something longer-lasting than a one-off event. So it was excellent timing for me to discover Target Law not long thereafter.

Target Law is a year-long programme for Year 12 students from non-selective state schools in London who aspire to study at a top law school. Throughout 2023, participants have attended mentoring sessions in Bentham House, run by LLB students, in regard to the UCAS application process, personal statements, the LNAT, and day-to-day life of a Law student. They have had taster lecture and tutorial sessions, received feedback on submitted written work, been on court visits, and met a variety of legal professionals.

Many of us Target Law Mentors are from under-represented backgrounds ourselves, and so it was fantastic to be able to show to the participants that there are already students with similar backgrounds succeeding in law school, demonstrating to the participants that the possibility of their becoming a law student and doing well is most definitely within reach.

We ensured all sessions could be as enriching as possible by:

  • providing clear, easy-to-understand advice
  • being enthusiastic and motivating
  • being attentive, compassionate, and non-judgmental listeners
  • ensuring that the mentees feel comfortable
  • encouraging the mentees to freely express their thoughts
  • fostering a strong rapport with the mentees, maintaining a professional yet friendly and genuine approach
  • giving the mentees choice in regard to the discussion topics and activity format

This allowed us to go beyond the role of mere role models by providing tangible resources and advice, ensuring the participants had the tools they needed to succeed. It was so lovely to work with the mentees, an inquisitive and intelligent bunch of young people who grew in confidence as each session went by.

My favourite session to facilitate was the mock tutorial. This session material was based on the Home and Family topic from Laws Connections, and so we explained to our mentees that actual 1st-year UCL Laws students have partaken in this very material – not to scare our mentees but to empower them by allowing them to realise, over the course of the 90-minute-long mock tutorial, that they could very competently engage with undergraduate law material. Together, we worked through some problem question scenarios and the mentees were able to pick out the key legal points and ideas, even without knowing the precise legal terminology (which they were neither expected nor required to know). I loved how keen the mentees were to raise questions, bounce off each other’s ideas, and construct arguments and counterarguments. It was really fun to challenge them on their views, as well as explain to them how we Law students would be expected to approach these kinds of problem questions. We displayed to the mentees how the law can be very complicated, but that makes trying to untangle it and make sense of it all the more a rewarding, mind-opening activity!


Target Law links closely with the values underpinning access to justice. The programme is centred around levelling the playing field for students from low socio-economic and/or racially minoritised backgrounds and helping to improve access to the Law degree (of course, this is only the first step as part of a broader Widening Participation initiative – support also needs to be in place throughout all stages of the university journey). Moreover, having more diverse student body would lead to a more diverse legal profession which in turn would ideally improve legal provision and access to justice for under-represented groups.

It has been truly special to be a part of this pilot programme. I’m delighted that Target Law envisions expansion in the years to come, aiming to support a larger number of under-represented students and to extend its reach beyond London.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author. They are for informational purposes only and do not reflect the official policy or position of UCL SPBC. 

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