In-house solicitor at Fulkrum Technical Resources Ltd and teaching fellow at the University of Bristol
Completing my BSc in microbiology at the University of Aberdeen coincided with my younger brother being accepted to study law at university. After reading his course materials, I decided that a legal career would combine my passions for reading and problem-solving. I was accepted on a two-year LLB at the University of Aberystwyth.
I was working for the Defence Academy (UK) when a former colleague offered me the role of in-house solicitor in his start-up company, which specialises in the oil and gas industry. The nature of my role developed in complexity as the company increased its client base. The company now has offices in the US, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. The work varies from drafting commercial contracts to negotiating cross-border joint ventures.
The complexity of the legal documents and the research that is required are two of the main factors that attracted me to this area of the law. The main challenge is anticipating problems before they occur. To a layperson this can be viewed as a pessimistic approach which delays matters, but in fact it saves clients time and money in the long run and ensures business relationships are maintained for the duration of the contract.
Six years ago, I came across an article by Jerome Frank, a federal appellate judge and legal scholar, published in 1933, titled ‘Why Not a Clinical Lawyer School?’. Frank made the case for a law clinic, similar to a teaching hospital, to allow students to put theory into practice. This article resonated with me because I view the study of law from a vocational perspective, which is underpinned by theory. Until recently, there has been very little opportunity for law students to engage in experiential learning using a hands-on approach.
I had established two other university law clinics before joining the University of Bristol in September 2017. Day to day, I supervise student volunteers who advise clients on a range of legal issues. My role is to ensure that students engage in reflective learning while assisting their clients. The benefit of this method is that it enables students to develop a multi-dimensional approach to solving legal problems.
I carry out my in-house commercial role on a consultancy basis. This gives me the flexibility to engage in practice when I can, while at the same time enabling me to devote the bulk of my time to supervising students in the law clinic.
I believe that my academic career has had a positive impact on my practice in terms of case preparation and conducting litigation. Attending academic conferences and publishing in peer-reviewed journals has allowed me to develop the ability to construct well-supported, persuasive legal arguments, and to gain a deeper understanding of judicial decisions (especially those dealing with commercial agreements).
There is a disconnect between the academic and the vocational stages of training. The SQE will not remedy this
One of the highlights of my career was successfully defending a claim in the state of Texas. Another concerned using research I carried out during my MPhil to successfully appeal a case in the Court of Appeal.
I feel that there is a disconnect between the academic and the vocational stages of training. The Solicitors Qualifying Exam will not remedy this, as it overlooks the fact that the law is heavily influenced by moral and political theory. One potential solution to this oversight is for law schools to incorporate law clinics into the curriculum.
Pro bono has an important place. It provides access to justice both to clients who either fall outside the scope of legal aid (and cannot afford legal representation), and for those clients whose cases are not financially viable for law firms.
As regards university pro bono law clinics specifically, their primary function is to provide students with practical legal education. They are not in direct competition with traditional law firms. Fortunately, many solicitors also recognise the educational benefits of law clinics.
Candidates qualifying through the new SQE route will not be required to complete the qualifying law degree or the Legal Practice Course. This potentially means that law clinics will play a central role in the education and training of future solicitors. Due to their important role in legal education, law clinics would therefore benefit from following a code of conduct that is grounded in moral philosophy.