Today’s #LawyerOfLinkedIn is student, aspiring lawyer and The Blurred Line Group (TBLG) founder Lewis Alexander Baxter. Lewis founded his organisation with an aim to change the way local mental health charities are funded across the UK, whilst still studying at university. With TBLG, Lewis has organised and hosted his own launch event, as well as delivered a TEDx Talk titled “Mental Health: Where do we go from here?”. I spoke with Lewis about his current ambitions as an aspiring lawyer, the why, who and what of TBLG, as well as his thoughts on how firms need to change their approach to mental health in the workplace.
Why do you want to be a lawyer?
LAB: “I think the beauty of law is its diversity and variety – from the people you meet to the sort of responsibilities and tasks that you’ll do. With certain career paths, there can be days and even weeks where you do the same tasks, day-in and day-out. I know the same can’t be said for law. I’ve always been someone who thrives off being busy and working in a fast-paced environment. Working in a commercial setting seems a natural fit for me; but I’m still a couple of years off full-time employment and there’s certainly a lot of hard work between now and then.”
What inspires you?
“Young people do. Young entrepreneurs, young activists, young sports stars, young musicians – all of whom have such huge responsibility but are under the spotlight and constantly scrutinised by the public, due to their age. I’d like to think I am growing up in a world where young peoples’ voices are being heard more and they are getting the recognition they deserve. Change is coming but not quick enough – I aim to make my mark within the law and in the charitable sector too, but also provide opportunities for other young people to join my mission or provide support to their endeavours.”
So what then inspired you to start The Blurred Line Group?
“In late 2015, I battled with the dehumanising disease of depression which controlled every part of my life. In March 2016, after suffering from a mental breakdown, I considered suicide – seeing it as the only route to end the pain. Fortunately, with the help and support of mental health professionals, my family and friends, this tragedy was avoided and I began to see that my life was worth living and I have things to offer to this world.
Mental ill-health is a huge issue facing modern Britain; more people have mental health conditions than ever before, but are often unable to access support due to under-funded services and huge waiting lists. The Blurred Line Group is the UK’s first funding hub for local mental health charities and community projects. In 2020, we strive to provide easily-accessible grants to initiatives nationwide, and provide mentorship to them too. We want to see these charities and projects not only survive but thrive, so they can help more people get the support they deserve. With prior experience on the Board of small mental health charities, I have seen first-hand the challenges associated with trying to access funding. We know this mission won’t be easy, far from it, but we won’t stop until we have reached communities across the UK.”
How did it then feel to complete your first TED Talk on those topics?
“Amazing! I must admit, I do quite a lot of public speaking now and have learnt to deal with any ‘pre-talk nerves’, but I don’t think any amount of experience prepares you for a TEDx talk. The bright lights, the large audience and having to stand on the stage with the TEDx letters behind you is daunting but exciting. It’s never easy sharing my story about my battle with depression, but knowing it would resonate with someone in that venue makes it worthwhile.
My topic was ‘Mental Health: Where do we go from here?’, as I explored what we can do as a society to build upon the increased ‘awareness’ of mental health conditions, and turn this into action. Raising awareness is so important, but we haven’t yet seen the improvements in mental health provision that we need! I’d encourage anyone who has a story to tell to share it. Share it with a small group of close friends and family first, and then who knows, the TEDx stage may soon welcome you.”
If you want to check out Lewis’ TEDx Talk, you can watch it below.
University is a learning process in more ways than one. What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt so far?
“Time-management, being able to juggle various commitments and learning to say ‘no’ – which all link together. Doing a law degree isn’t easy, I’ve learnt that by now, but it’s even harder when you find yourself short-of-time or having to rush your work. I’ve learnt over the last 13-14 months to make a personal timetable, which includes not only my academic commitments, but other commitments too (such as The Blurred Line Group work, public speaking / talks, writing vacation scheme applications and socialising). This has allowed me to keep in control of what I need to do and most importantly, when I need to do it. Like I have said before, I like to keep busy and I know I’m not alone when I say that. Being able to demonstrate that you can continue with other extra-curricular interests, clubs or societies AND do well in your studies, is a huge selling-point to recruiters – both legal and non-legal.
One of the hardest things I have had to learn is saying ‘no’ – whether to friends, employers or family. Obviously it is important to spend time with people, to socialise and to earn some money, but it comes down to your priorities. I try and set myself some time per week aside for this (well…I call my mum daily), play football once per week (if I can) and always find a couple of hours for Netflix.
You just have to work out time-management yourself; what works for me, won’t work for you. I’m confident that employers are looking for the ‘all rounded’ individuals, those that secure strong academic qualifications, but have other interests outside of their degree.”
What other ‘moment’, or mistake, do you feel you learnt a lot from?
“I don’t know whether I would call it a mistake, but not speaking to someone earlier about my mental health certainly taught me to be more open, honest and transparent. Talking about our mental health is never easy and hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing, but failing to speak sooner about my battle with depression nearly cost me my life. Today, I have learnt not to keep my worries internal, but instead to share them, in a confidential setting, with someone I can trust. Some of these worries have been very minor, whilst some haven’t been – either way, I have been able to find a solution quicker and get earlier support.”
How about career advice? What’s the best and worst you’ve ever received?
“The best advice I received from someone is about asking questions. I think we can all be a bit apprehensive about asking questions or thinking we look ‘stupid’ for not knowing the answers straight away, but we shouldn’t be. If we don’t ask questions, how can we get a more complete picture of X firm, X vacation scheme or X training contract. Admittedly, I am still torn between the solicitor route and the barrister route – it is not an easy decision to make. But by asking questions to solicitors and barristers alike, in addition to HR representatives and careers advisers, I feel I can make a more informed decision.
As for the worst, a trainee solicitor who said ‘follow the money’. I don’t think that can even be classed as advice…”
Speaking of advice – if you were in charge of a firm for the day, what’s the one change you’d make today to prepare it for tomorrow?
“Mental health and wellbeing programmes for all employees. Law firms are prioritising mental health in the workplace more than ever before; however, I feel there is more to be done. Sleeping pods, 45-hour shifts, 15 cups of coffee per hour – these things aren’t ideal for our mental wellbeing. (Not all law firms are like this; possibly very few to this extent)
I firmly believe that a (mentally) healthy workforce is a productive and happy workforce. Ensuring excellent pastoral and emotional support for staff, creating a culture of compassion and investing in the newest wellbeing technologies and programmes will lead to great improvements in the legal industry. This is not an overnight change, but rather a long-term culture change.”
And finally, any advice for aspiring solicitors?
“I think most aspiring solicitors are constantly told that it is crucial to show teamwork skills and communication skills; after all, when working in any firm you have to demonstrate this on a daily basis. However, it’s far too easy to show how you’re great at working in teams and fail to focus on your ability to be an independent thinker and be self-motivated.
Perhaps highlight times when you had to conduct research (such as a university project or essay competition), talk about your experience in sports such as running or boxing, or bring attention to the fact you played a musical instrument for many years. These activities demonstrate independence and often, lone-working.
My main piece of advice would be: to be authentic. Everyone’s lives, skills, interests and experience levels are very different and you should be proud, not sceptical, of what you have achieved. On application forms to law firms or chambers, show off your personality and share what is unique about YOU. I think the moment you start pretending to be someone you’re not, you’re heading into very dangerous territory.”
I’d like to extend a big thank-you to Lewis for contributing to my #LawyersOfLinkedIn series. If you’d like to get in touch with Lewis, or learn more about the great work he’s doing with TBLG, you can do so below.