COP26: Moving Money, Banks and Lawsuits

In our final conversation with CEO of ClientEarth, James Thornton, the role environmental NGOs play in speeding up actions and moving money in the right direction is explored – with examples of how being unafraid to take on the big guns could reap the desired rewards.

David: Law can unquestionably play an important role in environmental activism. What, in your view, is the role of environmental NGOs today?

Banks and money

James: The role of environmental NGOs is very important. They are able to speed up society’s understanding of these problems and then speed up the action of politicians, corporations in dealing with them.

Even though people are now pretty well on track to understand that there are problems, the movement that we’re making towards solving them is just too slow. Some will take action in the form of demonstrations. Some, like me, will take action in the form of bringing lawsuits.

David: There’s such pragmatism to the approach with ClientEarth, like constantly trying to work out what way you can get to this ideal end point. But, it seems that you have to keep the horizons so broad because a one-channel approach isn’t going to necessarily get you there.

James: If you’re going to save the environment, you have to move the money in the right direction. So you have to move trillions of dollars away from investment in fossil fuels, coal, oil, gas and all of that. You have to move all that money to renewable energy, for example. So, how do you do that?

Environmental law on its own isn’t enough because it regulates bad behaviour, but it doesn’t go to the heart of the money – and the decisions about where money go and the responsibilities of how to spend money in the right way.

So you need to think, how do you look at securities law as if it were environmental law? How do you look at banking as if it were environmental law? And we’ve been doing very cool things. We just wrote a letter to 17 of the world’s biggest banks, because they want to give a lot of money to Shell to develop new oil and gas field.

We wrote to the banks saying, look, you are going to be encouraging the development of the oil and gas field in such a way that it will make it harder to meet the Paris Agreement. You will, we think, be violating your fiduciary duty to your shareholders. You may be liable to lawsuits from your shareholders for this behaviour. So withdraw from this deal now.

Now that was very public and I made it very simple, but it’s a very long legal letter. If they’re smart, they’ll decide ‘well, we’re not going to fund this’. If they don’t, there is the potential then for litigation against them to stop the funding. Now, six years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that we could do that.

But now, we look at all of these other specialities, areas of law that can be used just as much for the environment as environmental law itself. I love the synergies that you get when you bring all these areas of law. It’s very dynamic.

David: That type of process of writing a letter to send to the bank that sounds like quite fun to me.

Well, it is – you’re right. Law can seem very dry and on its own – it is dry. But what I can do with it is very exciting. Just so powerful. I’ll give you another example, since we’re talking about banks.

So, you know we were saying, how do you move the money in the right direction? Well, the EU has something called the Green Deal. Everything we do as the EU must look at the environment and give an environmental benefit. It’s a beautiful concept – and then the question, as always, is what does it mean in the real world? So a nice idea, but does it actually mean anything?

Then the EU decided it was going to do what’s called quantitative easing, where they were going to put a lot of money in to help the economy post-COVID – and a lot of money, €750 billion.

A good idea from an economic point of view; to help the economy after COVID-19, so we said, is it actually going to meet the terms of the Green Deal? With all that money, will it help Europe move towards being greener?

We looked at analysis from the London School of Economics and the European Central Bank, which was simply going to buy bonds, which is how you do this, according to a standard formula.

The London School of Economics Grantham Institute looked at that and said, well actually that standard formula would mean that over 60% of this money went to fossil fuel in one way or another – to oil companies, or to other possibly related entities – so it’s not green at all.

And so €750 billion, you put towards the green economy. But within that €750 billion, more than 60% is put towards the fossil fuel economy and you’re moving backwards. So we said, what can we do about that? We said, we think this is illegal under the Green Deal and under the Treaty of Europe. We’ve looked at how the bonds are actually bought and then the bonds would be bought by six central banks.

James Thonton and David McKeown

So we sued the central Bank of Belgium and said this bond purchase that you’re about to do violates the Green Deal and violates the Treaty of Europe. You’re an entity of the government and you’re required to look at the environmental impact of this. You just can’t do it.

It also kind of met a lifetime goal of mine, of suing a central bank! So we’ll see where we go.  But if we go to the European court and win, then what will happen is cool.

One of the interesting things about using law the way we do is it’s like playing 60 chess games, looking ahead and playing this very good game. Because what we’re trying to do is ask, how do you influence that quantitative easing decision?

The woman who runs the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, wants to do the right thing. She actually wanted that bond purchase to foster the Green Deal, but the bank governors said,

“No, we have a very narrow mandate. We can’t look at the real-world impact of our decision, only the fiscal impacts, the financial impact.” Which is just madness.

We said sorry, no, took them to court. And if we win in the European court, then Christine Lagarde will get the space to do what she wanted to do, but didn’t have the power to do.

So again, if you go into the system and look at it holistically, how can you move that money to get a good green result? You put all these pieces together and then find a lever, which just happened to be banking law.

Let’s see if we win. But win or lose it’s a very good shot.


Find out more about our ClientEarth Conversation Series online where you can also book your place on the Environment and Energy Law Society roundtable to discuss the issues raised in the series with fellow staff and students.

COP26: Biodiversity, Big Cycles and Human Rights

In the third interview in our COP26 Conversation Series postgraduate research student David McKeown, talks to CEO of ClientEarth and honorary professor James Thornton about biodiversity – critters, compost and ‘wholism’ – exploring how human rights law can protect those best positioned to be the stewards of nature.

biodiversity and human rights

David: In the UK ClientEarth is very known for its work with climate action, but alongside this, your work is also concerned with protecting forests and defending habitats.

What do you perceive as the main threats for biodiversity?

One is climate change. If you’re going to protect biodiversity, you have to stop climate change. There are a lot of good reasons to stop climate change, and that’s one of them, if you want to protect life and the diversity of life. Another is the human use of land. Agriculture is one of the largest impacts, in Europe, for example, it’s the number one thing that is having an impact on biodiversity and creating biodiversity loss.

The conversion of land and then the use of pesticides and herbicides – that’s an enormous global problem. Agriculture, and then deforestation. Deforestation sometimes involves agriculture – in Brazil, for example, you have large areas of forest and the drier forests the cerada, but also the wetter forests, that have been and are being cut down in order to grow soybeans.

We raise enormous numbers of animals in terrible conditions, and we cut down the rainforest to grow soy beans to feed them. And so the whole agricultural industry is one of the main contributors. And in the end, also climate change itself.

“If you want to protect diversity, one of the things you need to do is to address the agriculture system that we have and try and make it a much more sustainable system.”

It’s something that you can immediately start working on. And of course, we work on.

David: That description of these different factors really demonstrates the relationality of climate issues and environmental issues in general. I wonder for you, has it always been a holistic approach or was there one cause that brought you into climate activism?

Did you always have this sense that there was a holistic nature to this problem?

The nature of nature is holistic, completely holistic, and like almost every environmentalist I’ve ever met. What happened to me is I fell in love with nature as a kid. You know, as a kid, I spent as much time as I could out in nature and collecting spiders, looking at flowers, watching birds or anything I could do that would get me intimately involved with nature.

And then at university and law school it was beginning to become clear that the human impacts were growing to the point that they were dangerous. I had originally thought I was going to be a scientist because I loved nature.

“Becoming a lawyer became a way to learn tools that could be used to save nature rather than studying it and see it go. I would get these tools and try and protect it.”

So then as soon as you go into it, you see the connections between this part and that part between all of it.

David: It’s an encouraging time in many ways because I feel like people are talking, certainly post COVID-19, a lot more about the environment in a way that maybe prior to COVID-19, I sense wasn’t as popular. Particularly  with lockdowns, people were getting back into nature and rediscovering it.

James: Then the question is, how do you protect? Nature based, area based protection has to look at not only the science of what is important to protect in the area, but also the human communities who live there, and particularly in areas that are relatively wild. It would be the forest dependent communities and other people that are farmers and so on, who are the ones who can become the custodians of this – and then understanding their rights and protecting their rights becomes enormously important.

“One of the things that should come out of protecting nature is also protecting indigenous people. And this would be an immense boon for human rights as well as nature.”

David: Something that’s not so explicitly mentioned within the Convention on Biological Diversity is human rights, but within the Special Rapporteur of Human Rights within these recent reports,  there has been mention of this connection between human rights and the Convention on Biological Diversity. You’re seeing a lot of signpost towards rights, rights based discourse. That would be an incredible step if we could see a greater connection between human rights mechanisms and protections and also the Convention on Biological Diversity.

And I suppose that links back as well to what we were discussing earlier with the idea of holism and interconnection between nature and humans. Like this idea when you were mentioning earlier the critters, I was thinking of Donna Haraway’s “We’re all compost.”

James Thornton and David McKeown

“This really captures the idea quite nicely because everything from the critters that seem so insignificant to some people, right the way up to much larger aspects of nature are really all quite interrelated.”

And the rights that we might think about, you know, human rights only freedom of expression and this sort of thing are actually inherently interrelated to what we might see as something that we would use to conserve biodiversity.

James: Well, you’re absolutely right. One of the areas that we’ve been working on for almost 10 years is, if enforced, conservation in four countries in Africa. We’ve been working to protect and enhance the rights of the forest-dependent communities.

The current understanding by scientists, by the best conservationists, is that the way to protect nature is to protect the people who protect nature. And it’s obvious when you think about it, but that’s not the way conservation used to go. It used to be to protect nature from people.

“By protecting the people in situ who are the best place to steward the land and the various ecosystems, you have the best chance of protecting the ecosystems.”

So it’s really inseparable to the human rights from protecting nature. And what you need to do then is to become an expert.

“It is helpful being lawyers because you need to become an expert in what those very complicated rights are; some of them very ancient customs that were never written down for indigenous communities.”

And that’s overlaid with colonial law with more modern law. So there’s a new kind of archeology of rights in an area. And what will need to happen now for this area-based conservation that comes out of the Convention on Biological Diversity, is a lot of focus on clarifying those rights and making it clear that these people actually have rights there. And ideally, one of the things we’d like to see is a centralised system, annotating those rights so that they’re easier to protect. It’s a difficult thing because you’ve got such plural systems, even within a small geographical area.

David: And then also you’ve got these decolonial paradigms at play as well. It is very hard to unpack, but the complexity of it, once it’s embraced, can actually produce ways and pathways of dealing with this. For me, one of the most important ones is participatory rights. It’s so often overlooked, but they can be so fundamental in, especially types of governance, to try and set a framework in place where people can participate and see what can potentially flourish out of that.

James: And these big cycles that we’re talking about now really are the way to think.

“What’s encouraging is that I think a lot of people are beginning to see the big cycles and interconnection of all of these things which gives many people a moment of despair. But what it also means is if you go through that despair and realise that the actions you can take are improving actions, you also then feel self-empowered. So if everything is connected and I’m doing something that helps part of it, I’m doing something that also helps the whole thing.”

 


Find out more about our ClientEarth Conversation Series online where you can also book your place on the Environment and Energy Law Society roundtable to discuss the issues raised in the series with fellow staff and students.

COP26: A Crisis, Coal and Corporate Law

Contuining our COP26, ClientEarth Conversation Series, we heard again from postgraduate research student David McKeown talking to James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth and an Honorary Professor of Law – about the climate crisis, the impact of coal and how corporate law can and has influenced decision making in this area.

China and coal

David: This year has been and is going to be very important in terms of global meetings between certain multilateral legal agreements regarding the environment.

Firstly, what do you hope for and expect from the COP26?

James: What is more and more apparent to everybody is that the planet is in a crisis – a climate crisis is well described in the news most days as we see the fires and the floods and the droughts – and there’s also, less often in the news but equally important a biodiversity crisis or a nature crisis. We’re in the sixth grade extinction and we’re losing species very rapidly so the world needs to pay a lot of attention to these things.

“It may be the most important meeting that will happen for the planet in our lifetimes.”

In that the Paris agreement, which was concluded five years ago now was a global agreement where 197 countries, came together and agree that there was a climate crisis and agreed that a series of steps that they would take to meet it. Now, five years later, what this meeting is about is to try and take far further steps.

So the Paris agreement is a set of guidelines. People went back to their own countries, came up with their own plans. Those plans aren’t yet nearly enough to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, which is keeping climate within 1 degree, 1.5 degrees centigrade of where it was in pre-industrial times.

“So that 1.5 degree rise is already dangerous for civilisation. Unless much more is done, than has been done, unless much more is committed and then done, than has been committed and has been done, we go way beyond 1.5 degrees. If we do go way beyond 1.5 degrees, then the consequences are extremely severe for our society. And at a certain point, maybe 4 degrees or so, civilisation itself will begin to fray and potentially rupture.”

We can do very well in terms of meeting the Paris agreement, but to get back to your question, that takes a lot more commitment, and then following through on the commitments. The time to commit is in this meeting in COP26 meeting in Glasgow.

So what do I want from it? I want countries to agree to further cuts. In order to meet the 1.5 degree target, basically you have to have every country saying we’re going to reduce our emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and then all the way down to zero emissions by 2050.

That’s far from where the commitments are right now. And we need those we need those greater commitments.

David: I suppose in the context of something like COP26, this is where legal activism can really flourish in a sense, because the discussions that we’re having, sort of agreements that we’re trying to broker are ones that can be strengthened through a legal dynamic.

James Thornton and David McKeown

Going into Glasgow, is there any one thing in particular that you’re looking out for, or is it more across the spectrum?

Going into Glasgow what you really want to see is those countries really commit to reducing their emissions, much more than they have now. Commit as part of that to stopping the use of coal. They haven’t agreed to do that. And then the wealthy countries to agree to transfer quite a lot of money, well over 100 billion a year, to the developing world.

Now, will that happen? One is very hopeful. One can only be hopeful. There are some good signs. Let me say that there are some discouraging signs. The G7 countries got together in Cornwall this summer and one of the things they tried to do was to reach an agreement to stop the use of coal, even among themselves, those large economies and they couldn’t agree to do that. That was disappointing. It’s not final and nothing is ever final.

The hope is that there’s been a lot of energy put into it since, which there has, and we may see an agreement to have at least the top countries get over the use of coal.

A very important and positive thing happened last week. President Xi of China announced that there would be no more investment by China in building coal plants outside China. That was an enormous shift because one of the things that we, at ClientEarth have been most worried about and working on very hard is preventing the building of new coal plants and then shutting down existing coal plants through legal tools.

Inside China where we work, we were making the argument that coal is a bad investment as well. That’s an argument, a kind of corporate law investment argument that has worked in cases in courtrooms in Europe and in boardrooms in Japan.

We were making a similar argument to China saying there are all these climate reasons why you shouldn’t do it, but it’s also simply about investment. We actually wrote an economics memo with the Ministry of Environment on that point in or around January of this year.

It went all the way up to the top of the hierarchy. We received that a moratorium on building coal was placed outsdie China. Then in September, President Xi announced no new coal outside of China, so that’s hundreds potentially of coal plants that have been stopped – and going into the COP, that’s a very exciting signal.

One hopes that the developed countries will say, OK, China is building no coal outside so, over time, we’re going to commit to getting off coal ourselves. Unless the world gets out of coal, it’s going to be very hard to meet the Paris Agreement targets.

David: That example with China is a very good case study, almost in pragmatics and how you might approach it from one perspective, but also seeing the type of argument that’s going to work best for the context. In a way, that’s a real testament to a type of legal activism where you have to be pragmatic to try and get the best result. In this instance, it’s the best result for the planet. To see China make that sort of commitment is also really encouraging. I’m sure, for you that must have been a real victory.

James: Yes, it was very exciting. Just yesterday I was giving a speech in a meeting in Beijing, with Chinese officials and Westerners, and everyone was celebrating this victory. There is a Chinese government organisation called Greening the Belt and Road Coalition, and I’m part of that. There was a meeting where we were celebrating this big change in policy as a hugely dramatic step in the right direction.

We’ve needed some really big steps in the right direction, and this is one – and will encourage others, I hope it should do.


Find out more about our ClientEarth Conversation Series online where you can also book your place on the Environment and Energy Law Society roundtable to discuss the issues raised in the series with fellow staff and students.

 

A ClientEarth Conversation: Hope, students and climate activism

The planet is in the grip of a climate crisis, and COP26 maybe the most important meeting that will happen for the planet in our lifetime. In the first of our ClientEarth Conversation Series, postgraduate research student David McKeown talks to James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth and an Honorary Professor of Law, about the positive role law graduates can play in creating the frameworks needed to address the diverse challenges of climate change.

climate change

David: Law can unquestionably play an important role in environmental activism. But what would your message be to students who are aspiring to engage with these sorts of environmental issues through law?

James: Keep going! What has been the case is that law has taken a deeper and deeper role in protecting the environment since the beginning, and only through creating systems of rules that are understandable, participatory, and that are agreeable to the regulated communities and to the affected parties, can you wind up protecting and protecting nature and the climate. So I think of law as a system of rules that is agreed at any one point – it’s like a photograph of what does a particular society believe is important, you know?

And that’s what the law shows, as we go forward and as we’re creating greater regulation to protect oceans, to protect the climate, all of these things are developing and developing quite quickly.

‘There is more law to make, so we need more good environmental lawyers. And then there’s more law to enforce, so we need more good environmental lawyers. People who really understand environmental law are going to take, I think, a more and more central place in society as it goes forward, because these things aren’t easy to do.”

Having a system of rules that regulates human interaction with the extreme complexity of nature in a way that becomes harmless, is what we’re looking for. That’s not an easy thing to conceive, to put in place or to enforce.

The reason we used the name ClientEarth is we like to think of the earth as the client and everybody who lives on it as the client.   And if you’re a lawyer, you have to talk to a client. So how do you talk to a client if you’re an environmental lawyer? It’s through science.

Science tells you what the earth needs, what these systems need – and then because that understanding is deepening and changing all the time, environmental law and regulations will always be constantly evolving. So it’s a living system, unlike many areas of law.

A competition lawyer friend of mine said, ‘what I do is I just fight for one big company against another big company to move money from one box to another box. Who cares? I didn’t do anything good for the world, really.’ And he said, ‘what you do is you’re trying to create a whole system of rules and enforce existing rules that allow society to move forward in its relationship with the earth’, so it’s always evolving.

It’ll never be a boring, formal, fixed system and that’s what I like about it. It’s one of the few areas of law that is itself a living system and it has to be. The lawyers who are doing it are the ones who will be making it.

One of the cool things about working in ClientEarth is that all of the lawyers working there are doing things that have never been done before. That’s not normal in any kind of profession, even if you’re a surgeon and certainly not among lawyers, so most of what you’re doing when you’re working in this space is at the cutting edge – completely new.

And when you’re doing it, if you’re successful, you will personally help save civilization, because that’s what we’re working on now.

With all the problems, with civilization potentially in danger – these rules and these understandings are what give the possibility for us to save the future for our descendants.

So is environmental law important? Wow – it’s really important.

The other thing that we’ve been doing, which is very cool, is bringing other areas of law into the service of the environment. So this is another thing to consider while you’re studying. About five years ago, we said if you’re going to save the environment, you have to move the money in the right direction. You have to move trillions of dollars away from investment in fossil fuels, coal, oil, gas, all that. You have to move it all to renewable energy, for example.

Well, how do you do that? When we say environmental law on its own it isn’t enough, because it regulates bad behaviour, but it doesn’t go to the heart of the money and the decisions about where money go, and the responsibilities of how to spend money in the right way.

So we said, OK, let’s become experts in company law, in securities law and banking law, in the law of fiduciary duty, pensions and insurance law. We brought in colleagues who are experts in all those things, and we said, OK, this is all the law that has to do with decisions about money.

How do we use the obligations that are already in those legal arenas to change behaviour so that it improves for the environment?

And that’s been a really interesting puzzle. How do you look at securities law as if it were environmental law? How do you look at banking law as if it were environmental law? We’ve been doing very cool things – it’s very dynamic.

When you think of working in an environment we look at the whole world and we say, how do we use all of that? How do we use all of those tools to improve human beings interaction with the planet and make it harmless and make it true?

James Thornton and David McKeown

David: Sometimes the law can seem quite a dry or stodgy subject, but actually it’s incredibly creative when it’s directed at meaningful problems like climate change and you ask yourself, what kind of methodology or approach are we going to try and go down here?

The interdisciplinarity between law and different perspectives on law – is really interesting and it’s great to hear what you’re doing that Client Earth. I know that in the Law School, there’s been collaborations between environmental lawyers and employment lawyers, and I think that is a pattern you see manifesting in different places.

It’s so encouraging because it seems to suggest that there’s a breaking down of this old-fashioned conception of what nature and the environment might be. A movement towards something that is more akin to our own experiences, and hopefully, that will produce some encouraging results.

To have someone in the Law School that is so heavily involved with climate activism is really important, because I think that a lot of the ideas that we have, need to be directed towards praxis, because the urgency of what we’re looking at as well is something that is irrespective of what line of environmental law you’re engaged in.

It’s always important to bring it back to praxis and think about how we can make actual progress and change in this area. I think Bristol Law School is very fortunate to have someone like you who’s been successfully doing that for many, many years now, to speak with students and hopefully encourage them to study environmental law.

James: You’re right, praxis is what it’s all about. It’s what we do, and ideology has no place it – it’s about what you can actually do. And when you get the sense that you can do something, it generates enormous hope in yourself and in others.

There was a study last week that 70 percent of young people are having anxiety about climate change. Very understandable – but for me, how you get beyond that anxiety is to say, ah, there is something I can do about it.

For people studying law, there is an immense amount that they can do about it. It’s really self-empowering, hope-giving activity that you can share with others.

It is truly a great honour to have been made Honorary Professor at Bristol, because I’ve always admired the Law School and the work that gets done there and also its students who come out of it.

I’ve always loved working with students and love the opportunity students have of thinking about things from square one. Imagining what would the law have to look like if we were really going to save the planet and if we’re really going to save civilization.

If you go into it that way, you will see things in a different way. That’s an amazing opportunity – and an amazing opportunity for me to be an Honorary Professor. It’s a big deal!


Find out more about our ClientEarth Conversation Series online where you can also book your place on the Environment and Energy Law Society roundtable to discuss the issues raised in the series with fellow staff and students.

 

 

My internship experience: developing my employability, furthering my academic studies and working to promote race equality

Recent LLB law graduate, Lottie Boateng-Kennett tells us more about undertaking an internship working as a Research Assistant at Research Action Coalition for Race Equality (RACE) at the end of her final year – opening up opportunities, experiences and the making of new friends in the sphere of understanding and tackling race and equality.

“I have literally never worked in such a nurturing, compassionate and refreshing space centred upon a commitment to race equality. Interning with RACE has been one huge lightbulb moment!”

Lottie Boateng-Kennett (right)

 

I saw the role advertised as part of the Bristol Model through the Professional Liaison Network, in the last few weeks of my Law LLB. Studying Law and Race, Immigration Law and framing my Final Year Research Project on the injustices suffered by the Windrush Generation lit a fire inside me. Born and raised in Bristol, I was empowered to contribute to tangible change within the race equality space and this role was the perfect opportunity to do so. Opening that email and applying was one of the best things I did the entire year.

The Role, The Team

I applied to intern with RACE because I had never seen a role like it. I’m not sure if that was because I wasn’t looking in the right place, or because I simply didn’t know that roles like this existed. I was so thrilled that in my interview, I said ‘I’m so excited’ maybe 50 times.

I worked with RACE as a Research Assistant. With my colleagues, Tobi and Morayo, I worked under the supervision of Angelique, Mina and Saffron and with other incredible members of the team – like Kat who took some time out of her busy schedule to provide us with some social media and communications training. If it’s one thing the RACE Team will do, it’s ensure you are equipped.

The Project

My primary role was on the Mapping element of the Project with Morayo, though tangential tasks arose incrementally throughout the Summer. It was very flexible and very self-driven. You take on as much as you can and have free reign to get involved in as much as you’d like. For example, whilst thinking through ideas one afternoon, we came up with #BSWhatDoYouThink? – a hashtag Black South West Network (BSWN) now uses to promote its debate platform. We were invited to live-tweet the RACE Launch Event. We worked on a video on Being Gen Z with BSWN. We were encouraged to write submissions, articles, think-pieces. Your ideas are truly valued here.

The Mapping Project was our little baby. In the early stages, it required rudimentary research into publicly available data. Once we had the foundations in place, it was time to start interviewing organisations. Morayo and I met so many incredible people, bodies and networks that do brilliant work. The main objective was to create a physical map, for both Bristol City Council and for RACE. I would never have imagined that I would be attached to a map. But I am. It’s our Summer’s work – and I think it’s fantastic. It’s the first of its kind: a map of the race equality space in the South-West. We did that!

Morayo, Melissa, Natalie and Lottie

I learnt –

I think one of my favourite things about interning with RACE was the insight to a world I didn’t know existed. It was especially interesting to gain this insight through the lens of data accessibility – something I’ve never considered before.

Interning with RACE has massively expanded my skillset. It’s nurtured my confidence. From evidence-based analysis, to summarising heaps of qualitative data. I’ve developed my own interview technique. I can finally navigate Excel beyond colour coding cells. I know that I can contribute to the change I want to see, even if it is just a little.

“I’ve built connections with some of the most incredible, most hard-working, relentless people I’ve ever met and I hope to have them for a very long time. If you’re committed to race equality, intrigued by the dimensions of data accessibility and up with working with the best bunch ever, I can’t recommend this internship enough.”

Further to my internship, I was put forward for extra opportunities. I was asked to host a book launch for ‘Grown: The Black Girls’ Guide to Glowing Up’ from (Mariah-Carey-endorsed) The Black Girls Book Club, for Bloomsbury Publishers. I was invited to work for BSWN – RACE’s umbrella network – and had an excerpt of my Final Year Research Paper published in the Bristol Black History Magazine. Talking with co-authors Natalie and Melissa at Book Haus – Bristol’s newest bookshop opened by the profound David Olusoga – was a dream. It was so comforting to be surrounded by successful black women, yet paradoxically unnerving because it was a total first for me. We even sold out tickets! I love how the internship with RACE has not just ended, but that the relationships I cultivated during the Summer have turned into friendships, mentorships and other beautiful opportunities.

Find out more

Learn more about the study of law and race and what you can expect to cover in the Law School’s Law and Race unit by reading the 2021/22 unit catalogue.

The Bristol Model offers udergraduate students the opportunity to work as Research Assistants, to gain experience of academic research and apply your learning to real social and economic challenges. Working with leading academics and partner organisations you’ll make new connections and expand your professional network.

Applications are currently open for a Research Assistant role on the Research Action Coalition for Race Equality (RACE) projectdeadline 12 midday, 28 October 2021. The PLN will be recruiting for more Bristol Model Research Assistant roles between now and August 2022.

Why is having a mentor important for my career development?

Kicking off Mentoring Month 2021, this month we are shining a light on the Law School mentoring schemes, offering our current law students the opportunity to gain deeper insights into working in commercial law, applying their law degree to a less corporate role, or gaining networks in their home countries. We hear from previous Professional Mentoring Scheme participants, Hannah Bellingall (mentee) and Alex Farrell-Thomas (mentor) as they outline the best bits and learnings from their experience last academic year.

What can I gain from being mentored during my law degree?

“When I first applied for the Professional Mentoring Scheme, I was still unsure which career path I wanted to take. Although I had attended several networking events, I felt there was not a space I could have a genuinely honest conversation with those who work with commercial law.

The mentoring scheme was a way I could gain way more insight into commercial law in general and have a candid conversation on topics such as work/life balance and mental health with someone within the industry.

It was also amazing to talk to someone who had been through the application process themselves, and my mentor was able to offer great feedback and tips on how to write good applications and which strategies are best to use.”

Hannah Bellingall is a final year LLB Law student, having taken part in the Professional Mentoring Scheme in 2020-21 during her second year.

How will my mentor be able to support me?

“I took part in the Professional Mentoring Scheme last year, whilst working at Osborne Clarke. I really liked the idea of giving something back – and giving advice to someone in a similar position that I was in, not so long ago, as a student myself.

I could really relate to the kind of difficulties that my mentee was having and the advice that she was after.

Being able to speak as someone who is now working at a law firm, and understand how you develop the skills to get there – I found that the scheme was a great opportunity to share some of that knowledge and be there to answer questions that my mentee had. Hopefully the experience enabled us both to develop some new skills.

As a junior lawyer, now that I start to delegate work to other juniors in my team, I think it’s important to stop and consider, if I was in their position, what do they need from me to be able to complete the task that I have asked them to help with? The mentoring scheme helped me to develop those skills because it allowed me to reflect and put myself in someone else’s position.”

Alex Farrell-Thomas is an Employment Associate at Osborne Clarke and joined the Professional Mentoring Scheme during 2020-21.


We offer three distinct mentoring schemes to allow students to explore a variety of career paths. Here we’ve set out some tips to help you decide which scheme to choose:

“I want to explore corporate/commercial routes (i.e solicitor/barrister)” we recommend choosing the Professional Mentoring Schemefind more information here.

“I want to explore wider career paths outside of corporate/commercial routes (i.e. careers in human rights, policy…)” we recommend choosing the Law in Society Mentoring Schemefind more information here.

“I’m an international student and would like to build legal networks in my home country” we recommend the International Law Mentoring Schemefind more information here.


Eligibility

The Professional Mentoring Scheme is open to second year LLB and final year MA students. The Law in Society Mentoring Scheme is open to second and final year LLB and MA students. The International Law Mentoring Scheme is open to second year, final year LLB, MA and LLM Law students.

How to apply

Please check all eligibility requirements before applying. Please note that applications for the Professional Mentoring Scheme open on Monday 4 October and close at midnight on Friday 22 October.

Applications for the Law in Society and International Law Mentoring Schemes open on Wednesday 6 October and close on Sunday 31 October.

Find out more about our mentoring schemes here.

Researching outside-the-box: how to pursue interests in specialist areas of law

University of Bristol Law School alumni, Michael Gould graduated with an LLB in 2020 and has since worked in the space industry, both in business and law with Satellite Applications Catapult and First Steps Legal respectively. Also a published author with the European Space Policy Institute, his research focuses on space debris and small satellite issues. Michael has written this blog to help students and graduates research specialist areas of law suited to their career aspirations.

Michael Gould

Researching specialist areas of law can be a minefield. There can be no-one to point you in the right direction, tell you straight that it’s not worth pursuing or even walk you through considerations you might not think about on your own. More often than not, this can accumulate into a loss of confidence in the ability any student possesses to decipher the complexities of a niche area of interest. This is unfortunate both because it can dissuade students from following any hint of genuine curiosity and means that intensive legal research becomes funnelled into only a few clearly defined avenues of thought.  

For me, Space Law provided that spark. I think it was the nascency of it as well as the opportunity to be truly impactful with my ideas that interested me in the topic, and I went on to write a piece on space law for my final-year research project. However, the research process was difficult, and looking for professional opportunities was even harder. The aim of this blog is to provide some tips about researching these niche areas confidently and effectively, both for academic work and in a professional capacity.  

Immediate Contacts 

Lecturers at the University often have an eclectic set of weird and wonderful research interests, and you might be lucky enough to find a professor with a similar interest to you. It’s worth asking around and going into their Law School Profiles to investigate this possibility and contact them if so. Researchers love to talk about their research, so more often than not they will welcome the opportunity to discuss the area with you. Make use of Bristol Connects to contact alumni that have indicated a willingness to talk to students about their careers. Chances are there are a few leads that might be exactly what you’re looking for.  

A guidance appointment with the Central Careers Service or an appointment with the Law School Employability Adviser may also help you to begin to fine tune some next steps.   

LinkedIn  

Most helpful for me in both stages was the tools that LinkedIn offers. First, you have the option to follow hashtags on particular topics and, more often than not, there is already a wealth of information about the topic included in its history. This will help you locate the most poignant legal issues in the niche, find the key industry players and organisations and locate professional opportunities within the industry. Find someone in the position you want to be in 20 years and have a look at the steps they took to get there. There may even be a research organisation dedicated to your specialist area which you can get involved with, or links to introductory academic papers which explain the central tenets of the specialism. You can find out more about how to use LinkedIn here: 

Using LinkedIn: Profiles 

Using LinkedIn: Networking 

Using Linkedin: Etiquette  

Conferences 

In the age of Zoom, it has never been easier to attend a conference or speaker event. What was once more daunting can now be achieved from the comfort of your bedroom, and there are a wealth of opportunities out there. Start by general research into the types of conferences that may be applicable; say, if you are interested in Energy Law, researching an Environment Conference and seeing if there are any lawyers present with which you could speak to. It only takes one connection to get your foot in the door or to pique an interest, so there’s little to lose!  

Persistence 

Fashion lawyers, space lawyers and energy lawyers, to name a few, all likely began with nothing more than an interest. It takes effort to repeatedly justify your non-traditional focus, but the passion you have for the topic easily develops into persistence, and this passion shouldn’t be wasted just because the topic is not the ‘norm’. Who doesn’t want to love what they do for a living? 

Further information

Browse the University of Bristol Law School employability pages for more information on ways to research your career and ways to maximise opportunities with your law degree.

Why you should try mooting as a law student

Current law students, Max Sakoschek and Mayank Tripathi recently took part in the Landmark Chambers intervarsity mooting competition, representing the University of Bristol Law School. Having reached the final round, Max has written this blog post to share his wisdom on why you should give mooting a try. 

Mooting Bristol
Photo from University of Bristol Law School/UBLC Mooting Launch Night 2018-19

Being a second-year law student, one could say that my mooting experience is far from extensive, but the knowledge and skills I have gained so far in participating in a few moots this past year has given me the tools and the foundations that I will hold with me for the rest of my professional career. 

So here are my two cents on what skills one could hope to develop by participating in mooting competitions: 

Oral skills 

To get the obvious out of the way, a career in pretty much anything, requires at least a basic capacity to express oneself well  in some professions more than others. But what is sure, is that none require more attention to detail, more regard for tone, or more care in articulation than the barrister in court. It is the art of speech and the pursuit of its perfection that has driven me to a career at the bar (hopefully someday soon). Like with any skill, perfection demands practice. There is no easier way to practice this art than in a moot, facing an unconvinced judge. I have found that mooting resembles a natural conversation with a peer far more than any other form of public speaking, compared to say, debating – making it less daunting, more accessible, and ultimately more enjoyable. It is for this reason that I have come to adore mooting. 

Teamwork 

Again, an obvious one. Mooting helps participants hone their ability to work as a team. To be honest, a lot depends on who your teammate actually is but every once in a while, you get the perfect push to your pull. This was the case between Mayank and me. By providing each other with constructive criticism and having open lines of communication, we were able to evaluate each other’s arguments, assist with research and coordinate our approach so as to formulate the very best way to deliver our submissions. 

Rigour 

I think attention to detail is any lawyer’s cup of tea, in some regard or other. Mooting is all about figuring out just where the law sits on an issue and it is about carving your way through the law to deliver a polished fool-proof argument. This can only be done by having a firm grip on the subject matter. Very often, it is the simplest argument that best resonates with the judge. So one could say that rigour, in mooting, is taught not through figuring out what to say but rather figuring out what is not worth saying. This skill can be transposed to all number of different aspects in life, in the office or in the court. 

Structure and succinctness 

Like with any good story, there needs to be a beginning, a middle, and an end. Too often have I seen (myself included) a participant lose themselves in their own argument, being overly wordy and repetitive. Mooting quite quickly teaches you to be sharp and to the point with anything that requires explanation. Succinctness is a skill most cherished not only by your firm, or the judge, but also by your clients. Quite paradoxically, at least for me, fluidity in speech seems to translate into fluidity of thought, rather than the other way round. Developing my skills in speech seems to have had an impact on my capacity to structure my thought processes.  

Attention 

While this is a little more difficult over zoom, its application is nevertheless crucial. The very best moments in mooting for me are when I am able to change the way I deliver my submissions depending on how the judge is reacting to what I am saying. An ever so slight smirk, a nod or a frown are all as valuable as gold for any mooter, because these indicate as to whether what you are saying is at all being bought by the judge. Figuring out where you stand with a person you are speaking to is as valuable as anything for a lawyer. 

Humility 

The road to the bar, as exhibited by practically every barrister out there is rife with failure, so it seems only appropriate to get used to it right out the gate. The best learning experiences you will get in mooting are when a judge completely calls you out on the logical inconsistencies of your arguments. This, I believe, will make you a better lawyer. 

Humanity 

Perhaps the most striking example for me was the degree of humanity I discovered when mooting in the finals of the Landmark Chambers Moot, in the privileged and terrifying position of submitting my arguments to none other than the former Supreme Court Justice Lord Carnwath and Mr David Elvin QC from Landmark Chambers, sitting as judges. My terror turned to content as I discovered that the judges were really rather pleasant and helped exemplify the principle that a barrister is really only there to aid the judge in discovering the truth of the matter and nothing more. 

All in all, mooting teaches you fundamental skills that will stick with you for the rest of your life. It’s a good laugh. Oh, and the prizes for winning usually are quite good as well – so there’s that. 

Image from Landmark Chambers Moot final round with Lord Carnwath

Further information

If you’d like to find out more about the practical opportunities available to students, through the Law School and student societies, take a look at our Careers and Employability pages. Considering studying law? See why studying at Bristol will allow you to do more with law than you ever imagined.

Are you keen to explore a career in Legal Tech?

The Law School, Engineering Industrial Liaison Office and law firm, Osborne Clarke have teamed up again to offer current law students an exclusive two-week paid placement in September 2021, focused on emerging technologies in the legal world.

The scheme

Award-winning multinational law firm Osborne Clarke has grown rapidly over recent years, with 25 offices around the world. The core sectors they work in all thrive on innovation; digital business, energy, financial services, life sciences, real estate, recruitment and transport.

They are looking for candidates who are passionate about legal tech to join them in September for a two-week placement. Based within their IT team, these technology-focussed placements will allow students to evaluate legal and emerging technologies and assess if they are viable and of use to Osborne Clarke. While these roles will be based in their IT team, it will be necessary for students to work with a cross-section of individuals, from associate to partner, as well as their OC Solutions and business support teams.

What can I expect?

Current law student, Ronald Lee took part in the placement during 2020 and said:

Ronald Lee

“I found the scheme to be incredibly helpful in exposing me to a different side of the law and demystifying the meaning of LegalTech. Especially with the current focus on digital transformation, innovation and making processes more efficient amidst the pandemic, witnessing these technologies at work made me more informed about the range of digital solutions available in the market and how it augments the role of lawyers. Despite the scheme being online, my mentors and project sponsor were very supportive throughout the whole process.”

 

“I would definitely recommend other students to apply for this scheme to expand their commercial awareness and gain insight into the internal support systems of a modern law firm.”

 

How to apply

To apply, please complete an online application form by 7 May 2021. 

How I prepare for success in my online assessment centres

Blog post by current LLB Law with Study Abroad student, Rosie Humphris as she explains her steps for success in preparing for online assessment centres.

Following the successful completion of an assessment centre with a top London law firm, DLA Piper, I was asked to comment on the how participating in lectures gave me the skills to successfully obtain a Summer Internship.  

Participation within lectures can sometimes seem trivial. So long as we attend and listen to what is being said, surely this is enough? With COVID-19 changing the way we work to online platforms, it can be very easy to fall into a routine of hiding behind our computer screens. We sit there with our screens off, muted, and hope for the best that the lecturer doesn’t know how to implement breakout rooms.  

Upon reflection, participation and discussion within lectures has been profoundly important to my success. Discussion in lectures enables you to build a wide range of skills which align with the skills needed to be successful in assessment centres. As a result, I thought it would be worth sharing these with you. 

Firstly, confidence is key.

Assessment centres usually involve interaction with a range of individuals from other students to partners of the law firm. As well as this, they often encompass completing tasks that you are unfamiliar with. By participating in discussions in lectures and tutorials, this will inevitably boost your confidence in talking aloud to a range of people, enable you to build ideas on topics that are new to you and think on the spot about your opinions. 

Secondly, obtaining the skills to be a good listener is crucial.

A substantial part of succeeding in an assessment centre is being able to show the assessors that you are able to work well with others, listening to them and building on what they have to say. This aligns with the central role of discussion in lectures and tutorials. Being able to take in another student’s idea, form an opinion and present that opinion to the group is exactly the opportunity that lectures offer you. 

Finally, as simple as it may sound, being able to virtually present yourself well is important.

Assessors are unlikely to be impressed by a black screen. They want to see who you are as a person and a lot can often be told by someone’s body language. Whilst it may seem daunting to turn on your cameras in lectures, this simple act will prepare you well for interviews and assessment day activities where you are no longer able to hide behind a screen and have to present yourself well. Whilst we may not all feel comfortable broadcasting how our bedrooms look to the public or our younger siblings new TikTok dance they are completing behind us, there are a lot of people in the same position and we all understand.  

Overall, discussion in lectures and tutorials goes beyond helping you succeed in your degree. With many of us starting to job-hunt, the skills built from discussions are key to our success. In an unprecedented time where it is easy to fall into the trap of hiding behind our screens, the skills that can be built from discussion must be acknowledged, encouraging the simple click of the ‘share video/audio’ button. 

Further information

Find resources to help build your skills with interviews, assessment centres and more on the Law School Careers and Employability Blackboard page.