Sophie Donnelly

Law LLB (2015)

Associate Editor, SAGE Publishing 

Please tell us how you came to work in academic publishing?

I had spent my whole life thinking about a career in law, or being a solicitor and barrister. After completing work experience at 5 law firms of carrying size, and realising I didn’t enjoy working in a law office as much as I had hoped, I quickly realised I needed to think about what I was going to do instead.

It was my dissertation supervisor at Exeter who suggested publishing. Most commonly, when someone says publishing, you think of fiction books – but the academic publishing industry is fast moving and covers both traditional textbooks as we as periodicals, like journals.

Two internships later at Bloomsbury (most famous for Harry Potter) but also covering academic books and Palgrave Macmillan, I was pretty sure publishing was the job for me.

After some push to break into the industry I finally managed it in my second job after life at Exeter, and started working as an Editorial Assistant supporting Materials Science journals at Taylor & Francis. I was then offered a promotion at SAGE Publishing, and currently manage a list of 22 social science and humanities journals, which was much more in my field of interest and I have not looked back since. 

What is the best thing about your job?

I think the best thing about my job is the people work. I am always out and about meeting or chatting to academics and learned societies to talk about journals, content and the latest developments. Often, these are people that I would never normally meet and I have been lucky enough to work with some academic who are exceptionally prestigious in their respective fields (some from Exeter, of course!). I have made some real lasting friendships, as you work so closely with these academics on a daily basis – they advise from the subject point of view, and I advise on the publishing side of things.

It is a privilege to know you are playing a small part in disseminating some of the ground breaking research that comes out of universities, and working with some of the greatest minds out there to them to ensure ongoing success of a journal.

The other thing is the variety in my job on a day to day basis. I currently manage a list of 22 academic journal in the social sciences, doing everything from working on improving a journal on my list and ensure it is the best in its field, all the way to supporting staff who do bids to take over publications from other publishers. So one day I might be out at a meeting reporting on a journal’s highlights for the year, and another day I might be in the office investigating an ethical issue that has arisen on one of the journals I work on. Travel to meet academics and others is a key part of the role, and I have been fortunate to go abroad on several occasions.

How do you feel your law degree helped you?

My law degree has come in incredibly useful when it comes to dealing with the more obvious aspects of publishing e.g. copyright law and defamation, which comes up regularly when you are dealing with published content. A good understanding of these kinds of issues has been incredibly helpful when deciding how to deal with these kinds of issues.  

That said, it has also been incredibly useful for the not so obvious things; like dealing with complaints or complex issues that you need to untangle. A law degree sets you up to be a problem solver, and gives the skill set to look at a problem and come up with several different answers. This is incredibly useful, not just when it comes to solving complaints, legal issues or drafting a contract, but also on the creative side of things when it might come to marketing content and how best to do it for example. It gives you the ability to look at something and give a fresh perspective.

An understanding of how to draft contracts is vital in any industry. Contracts is probably the module we all paid the least attention to (especially if you weren’t considering a legal career!), but contracts have become a daily staple in my life, whether that is drafting a contract for an author, a contract for an editor, or a contract for the purchase of a journal for example. They are everywhere and an understanding of how they work, best practice of how to draft them and a willingness to understand why clauses are written as they are is incredibly useful.

Do you have any advice for others looking to take a similar path?

I would say be open to ideas that you had not previously thought about and look into how law is used in different fields, especially past the more common ones of say accounting and audit or being a barrister. A law degree could be useful to you in so many other professions, for example subject knowledge to join the public sector, like the police force, or social work. Your softer communication skills could be useful in HR jobs or the charity sector, and your ability to construe a creative answer to that ridiculous problem question on the second year Tort Law exam, could be useful in a media career like marketing or journalism and certainly in publishing.

I really do use my law degree on most days, both the subject knowledge and the soft skills. In any job, we are constantly solving problems or issues and looking at new ways to do things, and a law degree sets you up perfectly with the skills you need to do this.

For me, I never had thought about law as a subject before rather than as just as a profession, but it is a subject that is ever changing and fast moving, and being in publishing allows you to be close to that content and the academics that work in the field. A common misconception is that publishers just read and edit content, but my job spans all the way from the start of a publication, right through to marketing it at the end and dealing with issues that crop up in-between. At present, I sadly do not manage any law journals, but law infiltrates all the journal subject areas I do manage, for example sociology, psychology and economics journals. I enjoy still being close to the subject in a different way and so I would encourage alumni to explore other professions in the media industry, where the need to know about and comply with the law is at the forefront.

For recent graduates, I would say it is so important to try and get work experience across a range of industries so you can decide what you do and don’t like about them, before working the job full time. Especially in law if you do want to practice – try various size law firms before making a decision whether it is a yes or no. Have no shame about emailing people directly across industries to ask about opportunities and tell them why you want to try it out. More often than not places are willing to take you on for a week or so and if you are really cheeky and ask, they will often pay expenses. While working for free is never ideal as a graduate, it is a good way to get an insight quickly into an industry, so I would recommend trying to do this while you have a part time job, if you didn’t do work experience while at university.