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In conversation with Michael Herford, founder and MD of Legal Lifelines

Posted on 10 November 2021

In our latest Mishcon Academy: Digital Session, Molly Javangwe sat down with Michael Herford, Solicitor, Managing Director and Founder of Legal Lifeline to speak about his law practice and knowledge hub specialising in Criminal Law.

Michael explained why he created his Legal Lifelines law practice and app, and talked about the impact of current legal issues on young people in particular.

He also discussed different ways to support frontline charities, and what to do when targeted or stopped by police in England and Wales.

Some of the key features of the Legal Lifelines app include access to specialist legal advice, a "Know your rights" section, and recording function.

Molly Javangwe 

Hello to everyone in the room and to those of you joining us remotely, welcome to this Mishcon Academy Session with our guest, Michael Herford.  My name is Molly Javangwe, I'm a legal assistant at the firm and I will be hosting today's session.  It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you all Michael Hereford who is the Founder and MD of Legal Lifelines, a criminal law practice with a particular focus on the community and its young people.  Michael, I've got a quote you once said that ‘the law is pervasive and affects everything we do - law is life and my life is law’ so without further ado, Hello Michael, thank you so much for joining us today and welcome to the Mishcon Academy.

Michael Herford

Hello Molly.  Well thank you very much for your wonderful introduction and thank you to yourself and Mishcon and those who have taken the time out of their busy days to come and listen to me, both in person and online and I look forward to hopefully sharing more about what myself and Legal Lifelines are doing to try and assist those of the community, in the community that need our assistance the most.

Molly Javangwe 

So if you could tell us a little bit about your personal background and how you got into the law.  I know that your route was a bit unorthodox and I think the audience would be really interested in hearing.

Michael Herford

So I was born and raised in Bristol, raised by my, my mother a single mum.  My father is from the, the Caribbean, from St Vincent to be precise and I think it's perhaps because my mum was raising me on her own that she took me to her work which was work as a community… in a community centre from a very early age so I got an experience of seeing what happens when people work together as part of the community…

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

… and I think that inspired me to go on to University to get my, my first Degree as it were in sociology but there was still something in me that wanted to continue my, my vision to try and be a, a solicitor even though to be honest I had some, perhaps some self-doubt which wasn't helped by other people occasionally reinforcing that saying, ‘well I don't know if the laws for you, you know, there's, there's easier routes’ or ‘you could do something else’, but I'm quite a stubborn person and I decided that after completing sociology I wanted to take the plunge and do a law conversion course which I duly completed. Then went off to London for the legal practice course and then qualified in the midst of the financial crash in 2008 which wasn't ideal and many of you will recall there was a hiring freeze…

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

…and many, many people that were trying to get the training contracts often found that they were being deferred and in my case completely ignored so I thought look I have to think outside the box, I need to take the initiative and I was lucky enough to have met someone on the legal practice course that was doing something called The Police Station Accreditation and was advising people at the police station even though he wasn't a fully-fledged solicitor. So I thought this was fascinating so I decided to go and pay for that myself when normally, for those of you that don't know, it's something that the firm would pay for as part of your training contract and as soon as I'd achieved that I came straight back to London and started cold calling criminal defence firms saying, look essentially if you're too busy or you can't get you know, people aren't you know, the technology doesn't exist to be in two places at once so if there's a police station and the solicitor needs to go to one police station, I would cover the other…

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

…and I found that actually I was good because people kept saying, no, no I want him, I want Michael Herford…

Molly Javangwe 

How amazing.

Michael Herford

…and so from there it gave me the confidence to then apply to other, other law firms, saying look I've already got something that I'll be able to add value to your firm, I've got you know, good reviews, I've got a client following and that really did assist me with getting my foot in the door and getting that magic training contract.

Molly Javangwe 

Amazing I think at some point you, actually when you were younger you wanted to be a policeman so when did you decide that actually no that's not for me, I want to go into law?

Michael Herford

In all honesty I think my dad's got something to do with that where he did, he did hear that I was threatening to be a police officer and he in no uncertain terms said you know, ‘no son of mine's going to be a police officer’ and, and actually that is very sad because what we see is such distrust in the system especially from the older generation because of experiences that they experience and you know, things that were fed back from their parents and I think that's still something…

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

…there's a big problem in the system today where the same things are being said to the younger generation because there is such a lack of trust with the police and the system in general.

Molly Javangwe 

Can I ask what led you to set up your own law firm and what services do you offer?

Michael Herford

Once I qualified as a solicitor and actually I missed out a little bit where I was freelance for a bit and then I bumped into a senior director who was impressed by my client care that I was offering one of his clients and then said, ‘look you need to join us’ so I was able to get a leg up and joined a major national firm so from then I… everything revolved around the police stations at first and I saw such a profound lack of trust in the system by these mostly young people who I think were getting let down and I don't know whether that was with the cuts to legal aid where people weren't able to give the service that they would like to give, the lack of trust, they, they… it was just awful and I saw a need in the market for a firm to come in and be able to offer accessible legal advice to those in a digestible manner.

Molly Javangwe 

Why was it so important for you to have a practice that focused on the community and young people?

Michael Herford

Mm, if you're criminalised at a young age it has a, a terrible effect on your ability to get a job in the first place, if you have a job to retain a job…

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

…people often lose their job and once you're in the system it's very easy to, you know you… people have to put food on the table somehow and if they're not given the opportunities to to live their full potential through education or you know, getting a trade for example then they're going to turn to what they've discovered or what people influence to, to do, which is crime…

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

…and so it's so important that we invest in our young people's future and do everything we can to support them to to live their full potential and there's a lot of frontline organisations, charities that are doing their very best to give that support but without people joining the dots, people don't know who, who they are or who's doing what or what their rights or what the law is and as I said, that where people don't know what the law is, they're making mistakes at the police station either through not asking for a solicitor or maybe even sometimes people not taking the time to hear, hear out what that person's gone through and taking the time to gain their trust….

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah

Michael Herford

…and they're being needlessly criminalised, which is obviously having an awful effect on society.

Molly Javangwe 

Have you found that any particular communities require your services more than others?

Michael Herford

Yeah well I've mentioned stop and search…

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

…and that's something that's very, very close to my heart at having experienced stop and search quite a few times and yes, most of the time it was fairly innocuous and I was asked where I was going or who you know, what I was doing and I politely answered and I was allowed to go about my business. But there was one time in 2007 where I was, let's just call it, it's called in by the police a hard stop…

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

…where they come in very hard and a bit like shock and awe and it's normally done against organised criminals so I don't know, I hope it was mistaken identity but the point is, is that we were almost run off the road and it was me with a group of other law students as it happened but I hadn't done my advanced criminal section but the point is, I was screamed at…

Molly Javangwe 

Goodness.

Michael Herford

…and sworn out and it, it was genuinely terrifying…

Molly Javangwe 

Terrifying yeah.

Michael Herford

…and it went on, it wasn't just the shock and orbit to get everyone out of the car safely, it was just went on and on and it was truly awful and that was, that really opened my eyes to what is going on sometimes with police that do so much damage to community relations. So where in London for example, you're nine times more likely to be stopped if you're a black man, if you repeatedly come into contact with the police it… you're much more likely to be, to enter the system and that's just the law of probability. equally we've seen through lockdown you know, other members of society that aren't used to having contact with the police and people saying, look where are you going where you know, where which area are you from and we've seen commentators rightfully outraged saying you know, you can't speak to Auntie Doris like that.

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

Who do you think you are, asking where you're going and, and so it's, it's something that is the norm within I would say the black community…

Molly Javangwe 

Yes.

Michael Herford

…and it's something that I've now taken to heart to try and do something about and what I’m worried about is stop and search actually criminalising…

Molly Javangwe 

Yes.

Michael Herford

…a community where people do lose their patience and I see it a lot where people are getting arrested and prosecuted for say a public order offense, say swearing in front of a police officer when there was actually no other offence and it gets recorded as a success…

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

…and it's like, yep that's why we stop and search people because it's justified because look at all these offenses that we're finding and yes, stop and search does have a role - I'm not saying I'm not completely anti it - it just needs to improve in the quality of, yeah the quality of the stops and there needs to be more understanding from both the police and the community about their rights.

Molly Javangwe 

Yes.

Michael Herford

And it needs to be done in a civilised, respectful manner. So yes I, there is a disproportionate number of people from the black community that trust Legal Lifelines but we're very proud to represent everyone and anyone.

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

That, that trusts us to, to look after them with their case.

Molly Javangwe 

It’s funny you say that because so we've actually launched the Black Justice Project which is a legal advice clinic that's really for the black community and we provide advice to actions against the police and we've actually had a few cases where young black boys have been stopped and searched by the police and for what seems to be for no apparent reason…

Michael Herford

Yeah.

Molly Javangwe 

…and you know they just have no idea what their rights are; they don't know what it actually means to be arrested or detained or unlawfully detained and it's funny because after the death of George Floyd and the riots that followed, I, myself, I've never been stopped by the police but I was actually scared to leave my house you know, thinking oh you know, I might have an encounter with the police. It's quite scary to think that you know, it does disproportionately affect the black community but I mean the work that you're doing is helping but what do you think is act… is required for real change to occur?

Michael Herford

So I, I think there needs to be an acknowledgement from the police…

Molly Javangwe 

Yes.

Michael Herford

…that there are problems with certain police officers that are doing untold damage to the majority of police that are in the profession for the right reasons.

Molly Javangwe 

Yes.

Michael Herford

Who are trying to go about their business keeping people, our society safe and I think we need to embrace tools when they come about that help, as it were, take back control. I don't like that phrase for, it's got other sort of ramifications but, take back control, so I created something called the Legal Lifelines App which allows people and it's free, free to download and free to use and essentially it's got some… three main functions; one there's an SOS feature where if you press the button the SOS you'll either have the option to record what's going on and it doesn't just download onto your phone, it downloads into a separate cloud meaning that that evidence is safe and it can't be destroyed if the phone's damaged or destroyed or if it's seized or you know, something happens to it. There's another button in the SOS feature where you can get immediate access to a lawyer, so you can press a button, if you're not sure there's something called a Section 60 Mandate sometimes that comes down. It normally happens if there's been some kind of let's say, a stabbing sadly…

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah.

Michael Herford

…and there's an area of particular interest where police don't need a reason or reasonable suspicion to stop someone, they can just say, look I want to search you. If that happens often people say, you can't do that, and then they try and some, some people resist or there's a problem. This would just say we would be able to explain clearly what a Section 60 is and advise people which is advice that I've picked up along the way as well, to comply and to complain. Please don't make it the reason that you're… give people a reason to get arrested by resisting or seemingly obstruct, obstructing the police and lastly there's a knowledge button where you can press a button and the your rights, if you're stop and search pop up and it's something that parents, frontline organisations, individuals themselves can just take their time to familiarise themselves with the law.  Through our work with frontline charities and organisations we find out what the community, the general community and specific communities want to know about and where there's been, either because of the lack of trust in the system, they… people want to see or understand the law from an independent trusted source rather than a ‘dot gov dot uk’ website or from somebody else that's perceived to be in the system and so what we do is we commission articles from the best legal minds in the country and on specific areas of law that people need to know about or want to know about and if there's anything that's missing, please reach out to us and we'll work, work together to get you what you need.

Molly Javangwe 

Good,  I wanted to find out what your views are on diversity within the legal profession?

Michael Herford

Huge progress is being made, I don't want to be miserable Mike saying that everything you know, there's no hope, there is hope and great things are happening and there's a lot more being done and people are speaking up to, to give back and to inspire the next generation coming through but it is… so when I first joined I didn't have anyone I knew that worked in the sector that I wanted to work and I did try and take the initiative and ask around and see if anyone could tell me a bit more about what actually happened and, and I, I wasn't able to find that immediately so actually Legal Lifelines is also working on building a national platform, again to be announced in the coming months, where hopefully we're going to provide a one-stop shop for students for everyone but especially from diverse backgrounds to be inspired to hear from the best speakers in the country and to make things more efficient so instead of just being in the lucky cohort that might be in you know, in, in, in Birmingham for example, that might hear a particular lecture or somebody that will come back and give back, in Bristol, in Brighton, all across the country they'll be able to hear from these people, be inspired and then make the necessary applications…

Molly Javangwe 

Amazing.

Michael Herford

…because we're working with other firms and other organisations who may well want to advertise that they're open to diverse communities where many I think fear at least that the door won't be open to them.

Molly Javangwe 

Yeah, is this something that is coming soon, this year or next year?

Michael Herford

It’s coming soon, I, I would like to think that it's going to launch this year.

Molly Javangwe 

Oh amazing.

Michael Herford

Yes.

Molly Javangwe 

I look forward to that.

Michael Herford

Thank you.

Molly Javangwe 

Thank you so much for joining us today, it's been a pleasure to speak with you and I think everyone has loved what you've had to say and we're looking forward to everything that's coming and I think there's quite a quite a lot coming.

Michael Herford

No, well thank you very much, thank you to Mishcon and everyone who's given up their time today to come and listen.

Molly Javangwe 

Thank you.

 

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  To access advice for businesses that is regularly updated please visit Mishcon.com.

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