Lecturer in Law
Looking back, I would say that my pathtolaw began shortly before my 16th birthday, when I left secondary school and home to move to London to take up a place at the BRIT Performing Arts School, although of course I didn’t know it then!
After briefly lodging with a family, I decided to rent a house with some other BRIT students and so at 16 I was faced with my first brush with legal documents – entering into a tenancy agreement. Over the course of a couple of tenancies, I dealt with flat mates moving out before the end of the tenancy, trying to get our bond back and negotiating payment of shared bills!
I worked various jobs whilst at college to pay my way and one, very short lived, job was in a call centre. I worked there for 2 days, but soon realised that the centre was, at best, using some unethical practices so I left.
The call centre refused to pay me for my 2 days work, saying I had signed a contract saying I had to work 3 days before I got paid anything. I hadn’t in fact signed anything. I contacted a free legal service in London and they advised me that even if I had signed such a contract it would be invalid and they had to pay me – with this advice under my belt I managed to get paid.
However, 2 days pay for probably the worst job I’ve ever done was not all I gained from the experience. I was fascinated by the idea that I could have actually signed a contract in those terms and it would still not have been effective. I was also slightly enraged thinking about all the people being ripped off because they didn’t know about such legal protection.
Fast forward to 2 weeks before the start of university and I was heading off to a prestigious performing arts school to do a degree, when another tenancy related matter left me unexpectedly with no place to live. This was the final straw in the ending of my love affair with the professional performing arts industry (that’s another story!). On an impulse I decided to go to university and spent the afternoon in a careers centre using their phone to put my plan into action.
I have always loved words and writing and thought an English literature degree would be just the ticket, but with my performing arts A Level and BTEC Diploma I was told I didn’t have the prerequisites for English Literature. The friendly Clearing House woman suggested that my grades would get me on to a law course, because there were no subject specific requirements.
I thought back to all my personal experiences with the law and thought, why not?! So a dozen phone calls, 2 campus visits and 2 weeks later I arrived at the University of Essex to start my LLB.
I adored university. Having lived out of home for over 2 years already, I found living in campus accommodation like a weight off my shoulders. It was also great meeting lots of like-minded people and getting involved in extra-curricular and social activities – I embraced university life with both hands!
My biggest challenge was taking exams, which I loath. Obviously not many people actively love exams, but I would get really stressed out and my heart would race and my brain would go blank. Over time I worked out little hacks that helped me make it through 3 years of exams and I ended up with a good 2:1 degree.
Thereafter, I was fortunate enough to gain a place on the University of Essex – Human Rights Centre masters course. The course was inspirational, harrowing and down right hard work, but I completed my exams and dissertation in international human rights and trade law and achieved my LLM.
I had plans to work overseas in Europe for the UN, but first decided to take a year away from the law to decompress. I worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school and during that year welcome my first child to the world.
When our landlord decided to sell our house, the spontaneous decision was made to make a pipe dream fantasy a reality and 2 months later we moved to North Queensland, Australia on a student visa.
To practice law in Australia I needed to ‘convert’ my UK LLB into an Australian LLB. In the end I chose to do 2 years of study at James Cook University in return for a full Australia LLB (with credits for sufficiently similar subjects from my English LLB).
At this point my priorities had changed. I wanted a job and a job that could support my family. So when choosing my additional subjects I picked every one that looked like a law firm would pay me to know it – tax, commercial law, company law, advanced commercial law, corporate investigations… I was prepared to be very bored, but very employable!
Then something unexpected happened… I really enjoyed my new subjects and I was good at them, I was good at… tax?! The university approached me and asked if I would consider a position as a legal researcher in the area of tax law and I jumped at the opportunity. For the next 2 years I worked on the CCH Australian Tax Law textbook for one of the authors who was a University Dean.
In my second (and final year) doing my Australian degree I also commenced my graduate diploma in legal practice (for visa reasons) and started applying for jobs – writing personal letters to every big law firm in the city. I was really lucky to score a role with one of the top local firms and commenced work 2 weeks prior to my final university exam.
Starting work as a lawyer was an exhilarating challenge. Although I was working really hard and on a steep learning curve, it felt very freeing to no longer be studying and writing assignments and finally have some guilt-free evening time!
The most rewarding aspect of my work (aside from successfully helping clients) was seeing understanding dawn in the eyes of a client or a more junior solicitor I was mentoring and hearing the words “Oh, I get it now! I understand!” I found real satisfaction in explaining complex matters in a simple manner and making the law more accessible.
The worst thing about being employed as a lawyer in private practice was the increasing push to engage in ‘marketing’, going out and drumming up your own work for the firm, particularly in less than optimum economic times.
It was these factors which influenced me to seek a career redirection when relocating back to the UK and drew me to university teaching, where every day is an opportunity to help a student have an ‘Aha! I get it now!’ moment.