I completed a legal internship and this is why you should too – National Volunteers Week Law Clinic series

Recent LLB graduate and Law Clinic member, Ibukun Badmus completed a two-week internship in collaboration with the University of Bristol Law Clinic and law firm Burges Salmon. Burges Salmon sponsored this new internship, open to Black students, as part of the Law School’s anti-racism work to address the chronic underrepresentation of Black talent in the legal sector. She explains what she gained from the experience, and why seeking out legal work experience can help shape the path you might like to take in your career.

 

What was my internship like?

The beginning of my two-part internship was at the University of Bristol Law Clinic. From the first day, I delved into tasks I had never previously undertaken, such as drafting court submissions for clients. Following on from this, I conducted legal research, independently held meetings with clients and responded to queries for employment, benefit, family and real estate matters.

Although, I was supported and supervised throughout, I was granted the scope to be independent and develop my problem-solving skills by coming up with solutions on my own, before discussing them with my supervisor.

Following on from my Law Clinic experience, I completed a two-week work experience at Burges Salmon. Throughout my internship, I sat in the employment department. Here, I was given an opportunity to conduct real trainee tasks such as, drafting employment clauses, attending hearings and amending employment defence templates.

“This experience equipped me with greater insight on what it would be like to work in a commercial law firm, including practically undertaking day to day tasks.”

Prior to this experience, I was only superficially aware of what working in a commercial law firm would entail, having only been informed through word of mouth and not through personal practical experience.

My experience at Burges Salmon has solidified my desire to pursue commercial law and has galvanised my motivation to complete my applications in this upcoming cycle.

I am grateful to Sumayyah Malna (Solicitor at the Law Clinic and lecturer in law) and the University of Bristol for enabling this collaboration, as it has undoubtedly given me greater confidence to embark on my legal career.

Why should students apply for a Law Clinic internship?

The first thing I would say is that nobody should doubt their ability and if you can, you should apply to the Law clinic internship! I know many people (such as myself) are sometimes apprehensive to apply for legal opportunities, as you may feel as though you are not equipped with the necessary skillset to perform well. This is simply untrue and besides the experience gained and skills you will develop are the most important things.

“Focus on what is to come and not what you feel like you do not have.”

In my application I was honest about why I wanted to apply for both the law clinic internship and Burges Salmon internship and indicated how I believed it would benefit me and develop my legal skills.

From my first day as an intern at the Law Clinic, I was met with imminent deadlines. My supervisor encouraged me to embark on the work (court submissions) and send her drafts, as I went along. I was set unfamiliar work and admittedly, I initially found the tasks daunting. However, after taking the initiative to look at templates on Practical Law, I was able to successfully complete the draft. I was tasked with several court submissions following this and it became considerably easier to complete.

My top tips for students gaining an internship

As such, my top tip for this internship or any legal work experience generally would be to always endeavour to independently come up with your own solutions. For me, it allowed me to offer effective solutions to the client and even see things from multiple perspectives, as I was critically analysing my own thought process.

This is not to say that you should not ask for help if stuck (I did several times) but make sure you have a go beforehand. Moreover, even when working in a team, by thinking about the matter individually first, it enables you to bring valuable considerations and solutions to the forefront during team discussions.

This skill was also necessary during my internship at Burges Salmon, where I was faced with corporate employment matters. There was a particular task where I had to amend an employment defence template against an advisory guide. I was initially doubtful as to whether my amendments were accurate, nonetheless when I showed my work to my supervisor, it was correct. Had I gone to my supervisor before properly tackling the task, I would not have demonstrated a willingness to complete the task, even where I found it challenging.

This is only one of the many skills I developed whilst on this internship. I would strongly advise anyone who is able to apply for this fantastic opportunity to do so.

“I then had the courage to embark on my  first application cycle. I frequently cited my work during the Law Clinic, as well as my two-week work experience at Burges Salmon throughout my applications and even mentioned them at my assessment centre. Eventually, I was lucky enough to obtain a training contract from a magic circle firm!”

Sumayyah is planning to run this scheme again in the future – keep an eye out for more details on the University of Bristol Law Clinic website.

Find out more

Read about the invaluable work of the University of Bristol Law Clinic and the opportunitities it provides to our students and local community.

How playing video games inspired my journey into law #WorldIPDay

Dr Yin Harn Lee is a senior lecturer in law at Bristol and her area of expertise is in intellectual property law. In this blog celebrating World Intellectual Property Day 2022, Yin Harn discusses how she embarked on a love for IP law through a non-conventional route, and how this could be an interesting area for you to explore in your career.

How did you end up specialising in copyright law and in particular, in relation to video games?

Well, this is because I had very long summer holidays, and during the holidays I was playing video games and was interested in modifying them, so making them do something a bit different from how they were originally designed. That led me to a lot of legal questions, such as is any of this allowed? And if it’s not allowed, should it be allowed? And what does this actually mean in terms of people’s ability to work creatively with existing video games?

“So, when parents say playing video games will never get you anywhere, you can tell them that’s not exactly true.”

Why did you choose to come to Bristol to teach?

I came to Bristol because it’s very well known as a research-intensive institution that values research alongside excellent teaching. There was a key group of colleagues that were interested in information technology law and intellectual property law, and we all do different things. But things are related enough that we can talk to each other and really bounce and spark interesting ideas off each other. That was what attracted me to Bristol intellectually, and in terms of career development.

How have you developed your research since coming to Bristol?

In terms of further research, I have previously looked at copyright on video game modifications. I’m now working on another project also about video games, but this is about the cultural preservation of video games. What we want to do is look at questions around how would a museum, for example, preserve a video game for future generations? What does it mean to preserve a video game? Are we only dealing with the code, or do we want, for instance, to also preserve some sense of how it was received by the public and how people engage with it? This raises a lot of complex, but also really interesting legal and even social questions. On that project, we have got the support of the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield, which is excellent, and we look forward to working closely with them.

What advice would you give a student looking to forge a career in intellectual property law? 

If a student wishes to forge a career in either intellectual property law or perhaps information technology law, I would advise having a really good grounding in the foundations of legal knowledge, because that student will need to be able to engage with contract law, standard property law and even trust law – so all areas of basic legal knowledge. And then to build up that knowledge and become more specialised by studying intellectual property law and information technology law, obviously.

Another area of importance is to develop a strong sense of commercial awareness.

“How will intellectual property and information technology law affect commercial dealings, the overall business environment and perhaps even the overall social environment?”

And then be able to reflect critically on how these would translate into issues that need to be addressed by the law, how these would translate into challenges that people will need lawyers to overcome. That is all really important, and students should develop that by wider reading on all of these issues, following for instance technology blogs, intellectual property scholars on social media and so on. There are so many of us. And importantly, I think what would be helpful for students at more advanced levels of study is to try and get a vacation scheme or mini pupillage in a solicitor’s firm or barrister’s chambers that specialises in this area so that you can really see the law in action.

Your research spans many areas, how interdisciplinary in nature is IP law?

My own work is inevitably becoming more and more interdisciplinary in nature because we have to engage not only with computer scientists when we’re dealing with computer programmes and digital art, but also with the art world when talking about more conventional forms of art. We need to talk to musical composers and understand how they see the process of composition. We need to engage in the kind of literary and film world production practices around TV and film to understand how intellectual property law fits in there.

So, in that sense, my work is inevitably interdisciplinary.

What do you see as the future for IP law in relation to video games? 

In terms of how I see my own research on copyright and video games and indeed intellectual property and video games evolving, I think it’s only going to become an area of greater and greater interest to people in the future. We’re already seeing that video games which were previously thought of as some sort of niche entertainment, taking a bigger and bigger market share in terms of the overall entertainment sector. The routine use of them outstrips film and television on a regular basis.

People are beginning to see the kind of social and cultural influences that video games have, especially over the last year with the pandemic, when people have been at home. One of the main ways of entertaining oneself and also communicating with others is through video games and especially the large online video games like Minecraft and Fortnite. I think people are becoming more and more aware of these issues, and therefore there will be greater interest in this field in future years.

Do you still play video games – and are you rare as an academic working in this field?

Well, this is a very sad question, because since I started researching video games, I have not had time to play any. But in terms of what I used to like to play, (which was so long ago, that it is now fashionable) are classic isometric role playing games like Baldar’s Gate, which I used to mod by BioWare, including Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

Whether I’m rare in being a lawyer who mods or used to modify video games, I would like to think not, because when I was more active in the video game modification scene than I am currently now, I met all sorts of people from all walks of life. Granted, they were the usual suspects, like computer scientists – people who were themselves professional video game developers. But you also got surprising people like a schoolteacher from Portsmouth that I worked with. You can get all kinds of unexpected people in that scene. While I’m currently the only lawyer I know who does this, or used to do it for fun, I’m sure there are more of them out there, I just need to hunt them down – in a nice way.

Have you seen an increase in students with computer science degrees moving into law/IP? 

If you study law and then go on to do something else such as computer science, I do see that becoming more popular, although I’m more familiar with it the other way around – a computer science student, then deciding to study law. I think there are some natural connections in that sense because both of these areas depend on a certain kind of logic. Computer science has a certain logic to it. Law has a certain logic to it. And while the logics are not identical, you do get a sense that you’re working up something from first principles.

“If you are a student who has a strong interest in intellectual property law, I think going into one of the related fields like computer science is a very natural career path.”

I do think more students will be undertaking this kind of flexible way of studying in the future.


Further information

Find out more about studying intellectual property law at the University of Bristol, by exploring our undergraduate and postgraduate courses that allow you to tailor your degree with our diverse range of optional units.

Why you should apply for a Think Big about Global Justice Scholarship

Recent law graduate and recipient of a Think Big about Global Justice Scholarship, Kudzi Manase, explains how she came to study law in the first place and what inspired her to apply for the scholarship to kickstart her career.

Kudzi Manase

Why Bristol?

I was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe, where I completed my IGCSE’s and A-levels in Maths, English Literature and Biology. I particularly enjoyed the last two because of how much reading was involved and was inspired to study law as a result. I chose Bristol for a number of reasons, one of which was the city’s reputation as a lively and welcoming place. More importantly, I was looking for a university that would provide me with the skills and experiences that would allow me to complete my studies as a highly employable graduate. Bristol was, and still is, ranked very highly for employability.

Figuring out my path

Before studying at University, I felt I wasn’t provided with as much careers guidance as I would have liked. Students were expected to follow very traditional career paths, but I wanted to explore things that were a bit more creative. As there wasn’t much guidance for this, I created a website where I interviewed successful Zimbabwean women based across the world in a wide range of professions. I asked them about their roles and to explain what their processes were, why they chose their specific paths and what students who wanted to go into something similar would need to do to get there.

Making my application

When I applied to Bristol, I also applied for the Think Big about Global Justice Scholarship. The scholarship is specific to University of Bristol applicants and involved writing a bit about myself, what I wanted to do once I graduated and why I chose Bristol. I also had to outline something that I had done within my community that I felt was of importance and helped as many people as possible – see above! Thankfully I was successful in gaining the scholarship which was helpful during my studies.

“When I found out that I was successful in my application, I was very excited as I’d always known Bristol was my first choice. Receiving that email only cemented my decision to study there.”

I felt that I had worked very hard in my academics and various projects, so it was something that made me feel good about all the work that I had put in up to that point.

What it was really like

One of the ways that the scholarship did push me was the requirement to maintain a certain grade level throughout my degree. I like to think that I am self-motivated, but that was definitely a nice, additional motivator! I always felt that there was support whenever I needed it at a number of different levels. At the closest level, every student is given a personal tutor – that’s someone that you can talk to about your academics and extracurricular activities whenever you need to. Just knowing that person was there whenever I needed them was amazing and a very big help! Beyond that, thinking about the law school more broadly, I always felt that whenever I had a query or an issue and reached out to someone, it was dealt with quickly and well.

There was a very diverse range of units offered by the Law School. From my own perspective, I always gravitated towards units that would allow me to go into a more corporate environment. Some of the units I took, as a result, were things like commercial, banking and corporate law to name a few. That said, for students who aren’t interested in that sort of thing, there certainly are many other units available, such as Human Rights Law, Medical Law and Land Law to name a few.

Tailoring my degree and specialising

In my final year, I decided to study IT law. There were a number of reasons for this, the first of which was the novelty. A lot of my units were very much tailored towards going into either banking or corporate law, but IT Law was more diverse and covered a lot of different areas. We studied how IT features in the work that the police do, in medicine and social media, to name a few. The other reason I chose the unit was because of how inescapable information technology has become. It made sense to be able to understand how the law in this space was evolving as a result and the impact it could have on myself and others as consumers.

“My experience at the University of Bristol was amazing. Being able to learn alongside students who are very ambitious and who expect great things in their future really does encourage you to continue working hard. Bristol provided me with an environment where I felt encouraged and able to achieve my ambitions.”

My experiences at the university of Bristol have been incredibly helpful in helping me settle into my role as a graduate analyst and are sure to continue being useful as I progress in my career.


Find out more

Applications for the Think Big about Global Justice Scholarships are now open. The first deadline for applications is 28 March 2022. Find out more about the scholarship on the Law School Funding webpage.

How volunteering helped me believe I could pursue a career that would make a difference

In this blog, Siphesihle Tsabedze discusses the role volunteering played in developing skills and knowledge that went above and beyond her law degree – and how that experience, combined with a very developed sense of justice, has given her the confidence to pursue her goal of becoming a human rights barrister.

My school was in Eswatini and it’s a very socially unequal country.  I was interested in law because of all the social inequality I could see around me. I was very motivated to do something to help people that couldn’t defend themselves against patriarchy and against the classism that determines your life when you are born. I went on to study at a United World College. Its mission is to make the world a better place by breaking down the barriers that stop people from diverse backgrounds seeing how similar they are. With that background, studying law just made sense to me.

Siphesihle

What is the Human Rights Law Clinic? What was your role in it?

The University of Bristol’s Human Rights Law Clinic is part of the Law School and is dedicated to researching and supporting human rights NGOs all over the world to do the work that they need to do. Often NGOs are underfunded, and they can’t afford to employ all the people that they need to do research on the ground and to be fact checking and to be collating information. The Human Rights Law Clinic gives students the opportunity to get involved in that process.

The research you do supports NGOs with the work that they need to then inform their litigation strategies and form their reports to official human rights bodies like the UN, like commissions against torture. I was involved in my second year doing research for the Committee on the Prevention Against Torture in Africa. And in my third year, I was a team leader for research supporting an NGO based in the Gambia that litigates on a regional level there, on all sorts of human rights matters, to the African Court of Human and People’s Rights.

What did taking part in the Human Rights Law Clinic mean to you?

Being part of the Human Rights Law Clinic meant everything to me. I learned a lot about the state of human rights and different human rights cultures around the world, particularly East, Southern and West Africa. I feel like I got to do work that was very meaningful in helping organizations do the incredible work that they do that has a real impact on people that need help.

“It was very much beyond the scope of my law degree. I went further than I ever thought I would because of the work I did in the Human Rights Implementation Center. It’s given me a real edge in my job-hunting process and regularly impresses people that interview me.”

Tell us about the other volunteering initiatives you were involved in? How did they also help you pursue your passion for human rights?

I also worked for the Freedom Law Clinic and Lawyers without Borders. The Freedom Law Clinic is a UK organization that offers law students the opportunity to get practical experience of how the law works in criminal cases and appeals. I was involved as a student caseworker with a group of eight other students, and we learned all about the criminal appeals procedure in England and Wales and how you write to the Criminal Cases Review Commission for a life sentence on murder. It was an invaluable experience and it helped me decide what kind of lawyer I wanted to be, what areas of law I wanted to get into.

With the University of Bristol Lawyers Without Borders Student Division I found that, again, I went beyond the scope of what my degree required me to know about human rights. It was a way of always being tapped into this field that I knew I wanted to go into. I met so many like-minded people, so many international students, of course, because of the nature of the organization. And I even made contacts within the organization that will be invaluable to me if I ever decide to apply to them. The one project that stands out was a project in Kenya and Tanzania that helped female victims of gender-based violence escape that situation and get help, get the medical attention that they might need. We did lots of research on what, legally, their options were. What protections do these women have? Can they walk into a lawyer’s office ask for legal aid? What were their rights for asylum, for example.

What do you plan to do now you have finished your degree?

Now that I’m done with my law degree, I intend to do the bar practice course within the next two years. I want to be a human rights and immigration barrister. And so, I’m currently building experience working in that area of law, immigration specifically, building my portfolio of client, facing work with vulnerable clients. And I’m volunteering for refugee council as a refugee integration advisor. I do that five days a week where I take on a few clients and help their paid staff manage their caseload, because the UK has a really, really hostile and overwhelmed system of asylum and refugee law.

“I’m very interested in defending people that don’t have traditional markers of privilege protecting them. I have a very developed sense of justice. I’ve always hated it when things were unfair. And so that really motivated me to get to grips with this whole thing called law.”

Where do you see yourself in 5 / 10 years? 

In five years, I see myself as a barrister who specializes in immigration and human rights. In 10 years, my goodness, I see myself as an expert, perhaps in one of those areas. I’m not quite sure which yet. I’m very open to learning. I’ll probably have more degrees than I do now, and I’ll probably be very happy with the work that I would have done in between now and then.


Find out more

Don’t forget to read the full Volunteering Week blog series to find out more about the options for gaining real-life experiences of law, in social justice and beyond, whilst studying at the Law School. Find out more about our Law Clinic work and careers opportunities on our webpages.

Why I’m passionate about supporting volunteer students delivering justice

Sumayyah Malna is a lecturer in law and solicitor at the University of Bristol Law Clinic. She is also the Law School Director of Employability and co-chair of the Staff BAME Committee. In this blog, created from the transcript of a recent filming session, Sumayyah provides some background on why she decided to choose a career in law, the benefits of pro bono legal work and how this can benefit students learning and the wider community. 

Sumayyah Malna, Lecturer in Law and Law Clinic Solicitor

Why did you choose to pursue a legal career? 

I wanted to go into law to do medical law, because that was specifically what I was interested in. I didn’t want to do corporate/commercial stuff – I was very set on doing the medical side of things. So my experience throughout my training contract and in practice put me in good stead to then move over to the University of Bristol Law Clinic. I have worked with people who have suddenly had their lives upended and they have these huge legal problems, but they don’t have the money and the resources that other companies and organisations have – and public funding isn’t always available.  

What type of legal work have you worked on in the past? 

I’ve worked on the opposite side, working for the NHS Trust in Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), who ran those cases as well – so I’ve seen first-hand that power imbalance. Moving across to the University and working at the Law Clinic, I really wanted to help address that balance by taking on some of the work that I used to do when I was working for NHS Trust and CCGs, by empowering those members of our community with the help of the students and their brilliant work, so that they’re in a better position when they are addressing these legal proceedings. 

I trained at a firm called Irwin Mitchell, where I practiced clinical negligence law. I also worked in public law and human rights, assisting with legal aid claims against state bodies like NHS trusts against CCGs as well. I then qualified and moved over to a firm called Bevan Brittan, where the majority of my caseload was inquest work and court of protection work. This involved advising NHS trust and CCGs in relation to their patients who didn’t have mental capacity to make decisions – and going to court on behalf of our clients, putting forward cases in front of the judge. 

How has this experience shaped your work at the Law Clinic? 

Having worked on both sides of the table, I feel like I’ve got a unique perspective in terms of insight into the power imbalance that appears in courtrooms or among negotiations as well. I’m keen to equip our students with an understanding of the larger context in which the law exists. Looking at power imbalances, looking at our clients in context is people who don’t just exist in a vacuum but exist as a result of their experiences. And what that means for the choices that they’ve made that led them here, but also looking at ourselves as lawyers and the choices that we make and how that impacts the case as a whole. 

What provision is there for clinical legal education in the curriculum? 

I teach on clinical legal studies, which is a third-year optional unit. The unit involves students being part of our Law Clinic and running cases on behalf of our local community, but also taking that one step further and looking at the academic side of clinical legal work. So, looking at our clients in context, what do their experiences mean? How does that shape what the decisions that we make as lawyers? What regulations are in place and why are they in place? What is our justice system all about? Is it an effective justice system? What can we do to make change? What power do our students have in providing pro bono work and further on in their careers in terms of effecting real change?

“One of my favourite things about my job is talking to students who until they start working at the clinic, just presume that the only routes into law are the corporate commercial routes. I just love helping them to see a whole different world in terms of the social justice and human rights work that can be done and showing them that there is real value in these roots as well.”

What can students gain from being part of the Law Clinic? 

Being a part of the Law Clinic is such a wonderful opportunity for our students. Students feel really inspired to actually go into law that has a social justice element to it, so they’ve seen that there’s a different side to law. That’s not just the corporate and commercial side to it in terms of working for big, faceless corporations, but that there’s real value in and working for and acting for individuals who really do value the support that we’re able to give. Whether that’s going to be legal aid work or pro bono work, working for law centres and the like.

It gives them the responsibility that they’re not going to get anywhere else at this stage of their career, directly interviewing their clients and asking questions of their client. The direct contact with the client is quite unusual to get at this stage of their career. 

We have students who have come up against huge law firms and have been to court, have advocated on behalf of their clients. They’ve learned skills in terms of negotiation and drafting documents for particular parties that really are invaluable skills that will serve students well, whether they decide to go into law, or if they decide to do something else entirely. 


Find out more

Don’t forget to read the full Volunteering Week blog series to find out more about the options for gaining real-life experiences of law, in social justice and beyond, whilst studying at the Law School. Find out more about our Law Clinic work and careers opportunities on our webpages.

 

How being a volunteer in a dynamic university has changed me

For this blog we caught up with Aryan Mandal, who shares his thoughts about being an international student here – and how the culture and spirit of the university, combined with his experience working as a volunteer lawyer, has seen him grow as a human with ambition for the future.

Aryan Mandal

How has your experience at the University of Bristol shaped you?

The University of Bristol is always changing, always evolving – it’s so dynamic in nature. It’s all about new ideas, new cultures, new traditions and it makes you think differently.  It’s made me understand my choices. I’ve had such beautiful courses, such beautiful optional units, it has shaped my future ambition. I’m very thankful to the university for that. It’s all about choosing something which you deserve and choosing something that suits you.  When I came in here, I always thought I wanted to become a barrister in the area of human rights law. But then Bristol changed that completely. I still want to become a barrister, but in the field of commercial law, in the field of arbitration law.

What is the Law Clinic – and how did it help form your future goals?

The University of Bristol Law Clinic provides social service to anyone who needs advice with regard to legal problems, and I think that is what makes University of Bristol stand apart. It helps people solve their legal problems without any costs, and I feel that is what is needed. Free legal aid, helping people, advising people, that is what us volunteer lawyers are. You help that person, you make a difference to that person’s life by your advice, and that person can decide whether or not to take it to litigation or arbitration or mediation and then get resolution out of it. That can make a real difference to their lives

“It’s not always about getting something out of it. It’s not always something about gaining reputation, but it’s about helping people. And that is what a law degree is actually about. It’s about human rights. It’s about how you can help, how you can make a change to another person.”

What cases have you worked on as a volunteer in the Clinic and what have they taught you?

I have undertaken many different cases and been involved in many different activities. From cases involving family law and environmental law to arbitration and mediation. These experiences have got me ready for the legal world. I’m advising clients every month and that gets me ready to go out there as a lawyer after three years and advise clients. The Law Clinic taught me the procedures to do that, and that’s the biggest blessing for me because going out there as a lawyer, you never might know how to advise a client or how to write advise or draft advice. But the Law Clinic prepares you for all of that.

What other activities have helped you build practical skills? 

Offering students the opportunity to get involved with the many different mooting competitions that are available around the world is another way the Law School helps you develop skills for your future career.  My highlight of being here is taking part in the KK Luthra International Moot Court competition as the lead mooter. Mooting generally helps you gain confidence in yourself. It helps you know what it is to stand in that court and argue as counsel for a client, making a difference to that person. It is such an important part the career and employability provision – and there is an array of opportunities that you can get involved in as an international student.  There’s so much to do I have never felt that, well, I’ve come to a different country, what’s going to happen? I’ve never felt that. And that is what is so pleasing to me. 

What advice would you give a student thinking about studying here?

My big bit of advice is just accept your offer. Just accept it and come here because there’s nothing better. There’s nothing better than the University of Bristol Law School. It’s highly ranked. It’s research intensive. It’s top five in UK for research. And they accept you with open arms. They’re so welcoming to international students. You go to the library, you sit among people and they become your best friends. I feel that is what the University of Bristol’s all about. That is what the culture in Bristol is all about. That is what the city is all about.  


Find out more

Don’t forget to read the full Volunteering Week blog series to find out more about the options for gaining real-life experiences of law, in social justice and beyond, whilst studying at the Law School. Find out more about our Law Clinic work and careers opportunities on our webpages.

How volunteering and mentoring has given me focus for my future

Recent MA in Law graduate, Tanzeem Basha spoke to us recently about her experience of choosing to study law, how she found studying in Bristol and the opportunities to gain real-life experiences of law, particularly in the area of social justice. 

Tanzeem Basha

Why did you choose Bristol to study the MA in Law course 

I wanted to study in a world-class university and Bristol was one of the top 10 universities in the UK – that’s why I chose Bristol. I also wanted to study in a place that had it’s roots in law and I couldn’t find a place better than Bristol.  

I didn’t want to do a one-year GDL and I was looking at courses that could offer a well-rounded structure to give me the core legal skills that I required to become a successful lawyer in the future. That’s when I came across the MA in Bristol and Bristol is one of the very few universities that offer this course..  

How did the optional units help shape your degree?  

There are a lot of options available in the MA course. I was quite confused as to what I wanted to choose because I wanted to study everything, but I chose corporate governance in the US and UK. I think that is really helpful for me and for my career because I want to become a commercial lawyer and in a city law firm. They expect you to know some corporate law and I think Bristol has given me that.  

You were able to work in the Freedom Law Clinic during your second year – how did you find this opportunity? 

In the Freedom Law Clinic, we got to advise people who were convicted of serious criminal offences. My client was convicted of murder and we had to find new grounds of appeal, analyse new evidence and make his case stronger when applying to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. That was a really good opportunity for me because I got to do real work and I got hands-on legal experience. 


 

What mentoring schemes were you involved in and how did they help your career planning?

I participated in the Law School Professional Mentoring scheme in my second year. I had a mentor from a city law firm, in a corporate team, which is the direction I wanted to go into. Over seven months we had one-to-one meetings and he told me where I had to improve, how I had to navigate my career, how to successfully get into a city law firm be it training contract applications or even the slightest doubts that I had he made sure that I understood what I was getting into. Personally, I also got to know what kind of work law firms do, what kind of cases they take up and how I would fit in this whole area – that was really good.

How has studying here shaped your future ambition/what you want to do?

Studying at Bristol has navigated me in the right direction. I knew I wanted to do law but then I was confused – even though I wanted to do commercial law, there’s so many aspects of commercial law that you’d want to go into – and Bristol led me in the right direction by giving me opportunities for example the mentoring scheme taught me what I actually want to do in my future.  

What would you say to someone considering studying law here?

As an international student, I think Law as a subject can be really intimidating and then you’re moving countries, the education system is completely different but I think there’s a lot of support available be it from the academic staff or the Law School Careers Service. There’s always support and I think you should make the most of your time in Bristol – there’s no better place to study law. 
 


Find out more

Don’t forget to read the full Volunteering Week blog series to find out more about the options for gaining real-life experiences of law, in social justice and beyond, whilst studying at the Law School. Find out more about our Law Clinic work and careers opportunities on our webpages.

My experience as a Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholar and how it has helped shape my future

The University of Bristol supports eligible first year law students to apply for the Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Scheme. Launched in 2013, the scheme seeks to address the disproportionate under-representation of black and black mixed-race men from less socially mobile backgrounds in large commercial law firms, and in recent years other ‘City’ careers too. Each year students will work closely with lawyers and other professionals within Freshfields, and at other City organisations.

This year three University of Bristol law students were amongst only 13 successful applicants – a fantastic achievement. They follow in the footsteps of two previous University of Bristol law students who also won scholarships and whose feedback on the scheme, and the support offered, was exceptional. We caught up with Jeante Nero who was one of the three Bristol law students to join the scheme in 2021, as he tells us his thoughts on the scheme and why you should apply.

Jeante Nero

Why did you decide to apply for the Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship?

“I was contacted by the Law School’s Career adviser Jo Cooksley who nominated me for the opportunity. Upon attending the online welcome event I emailed a previous 2020 scholar, Oli, and asked a few additional questions about it. I applied because I thought it was a fantastic opportunity, and rightly so, to gain insight into the commercial world. I am so much more aware than I ever would’ve been with how things work.”

When you were selected for the scholarship, how did this make you feel?

“I honestly didn’t think I’d be offered a scholarship after the assessment days. I felt like there were so many great applicants so when I found out I’d been awarded one I was quite shocked but my excitement for the programme overcame most of the imposter syndrome.”

What is offered on the scholarship and what do you feel you have gained from the opportunity?

“You get invaluable insight into the commercial world, and incredible mentorship from people at the top of their field. There are a number of City and legal careers we explore on the programme: the focus is a primarily commercial one, but that’s not to say you cannot receive guidance on other areas. Mentors are great at helping you to explore fields you’re interested in. This process has helped me discover that my true passion resides in human rights and civil law, possibly as a barrister. The skills sessions included in the development programme will help me succeed in the competitive area that I plan to move in to. Sessions so far have included ‘ESG’ (environmental, social, governance), tech and innovation, writing skills, personal and professional branding, and building resilience. The unique thing about the programme is the networks it seeks to build, including among scholars and candidates. I don’t know of another programme that brings together black men with the potential to succeed.”

What advice would you give to someone thinking of applying?

“Just do it (not to sound cliché). You have nothing to lose by applying and the assessment centre is great practice for the future. You don’t have to be set on entering the commercial world. This programme can help with a wide range of careers. Don’t be scared to apply or doubt your capabilities. The criteria can seem daunting, but Freshfields considers potential in a number of ways, and far too often we underestimate our own capabilities. There’s even a great offering for those who don’t win a scholarship.”

How can I find out more about the scheme and how to apply?

You can find out more about this fantastic scheme via this link. If you are studying law at the University of Bristol and think that you might be eligible for the scheme, you can contact Jo Cooksley (law-employability@bristol.ac.uk) to find out more.

Human Rights Day: How my UN work influences my teaching and helped shape careers

In this Human Rights Day blog we spoke to Professor Sir Malcolm Evans about how his teaching has been influenced by over 10 years of leading the United Nations’ efforts to prevent torture around the world, how leaving your career planning a little to chance is not always a bad thing – and how choosing the LLM in Human Rights can open up a diverse array of career paths.

Malcolm Evans, Professor of Public International Law

When I started teaching law, human rights really wasn’t something that was very much studied or very much taught. So when I began teaching here at the University of Bristol in the early 1990s, we established an LLM in International Law.

I thought it would be good to offer a unit in international human rights law, which was rather rash of me, quite frankly, as I had never studied international human rights at that point but for one week on my undergraduate course a couple of years earlier. The rest, they say, is history.

In order to teach others well, I got involved in the field of torture prevention. A colleague, who was a criminologist, had just started advising a newly established international body called the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, which was about to start its work, going around, visiting prisons and discovering what protections there were for those who were in prison and other places of detention from ill treatment. We began talking about it. And then we began writing about it and researching about it. And one thing led to another.

My role in the UN really grew out of the work I was doing here as an academic over the course of time. We looked at the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and its work, and at that time moves were afoot within the United Nations to establish a similar international instrument, creating a similar body at the global level. So because of what we knew about the way this worked in Europe, we started talking to the people involved in this and became quite heavily involved in lobbying for the instrument and following the negotiation process until the international instrument was finally adopted in the middle of the 2000s.

I was inevitably drawn closer and closer to it in practice. And then, in 2009, I was offered the opportunity of standing for election to the Subcommittee itself. And so, for me, it’s been a fascinating journey because I started off looking at this area of torture prevention very much as an academic, moving on to viewing it very much as an advocate and then, finally, having to run the system. That’s quite a transition.

I’ve always been most interested in the way that one’s knowledge as a lawyer can be converted over into practical policy and have an impact through policy formation and development. So trying to influence public policy around international legal issues and human rights issues was the way to go. The idea of taking what we have learned through academic study and engagement and making that into practical policies that can be then implemented – completing the circle, studying and reflecting academically on the way human rights are implemented in practice.

I don’t know any more where the influence of my work within the UN in my teaching begins and ends, it has all become almost symbiotic. The one has over the years become the other. I teach what I do within what I have done within the UN. I seek to implement that which I’ve learned through my academic study, which is fantastic. From a personal point of view, rarely do you have that opportunity to be able to study as an academic to reflect with others on what you think should be done and then be in the position to try to really bring it about in the world, within the UN, within the UN Human Rights Treaty body system.

But it also means that back in teaching, what do I teach? I teach my experience within the UN. One becomes the other and students can draw on the practical experience of so many people that I have been working very closely with over so many years within the Human Rights Implementation Centre and international organisations within the development of human rights practice and policy – so many different levels. The insights that that can bring to the teaching is frankly a huge asset and very difficult to replicate elsewhere.

It really does enhance the prospects of students who want to go into practical work around human rights issues. One of the advantages our LLM in Human Rights Law is that it can open up a very broad range of career options. For many who’ve done the LLM, they may want to go into professional practice in the commercial or other law areas, and the human rights work they’ve done is something that they will carry with them. Increasingly, major commercial practices encourage those working for them to take part in pro bono work, and for many, that does take the form of human rights work. So having the LLM in Human Rights Law is a huge asset.

The LLM in Human Rights Law opens up a huge array of possibilities, not just in professional practice itself, but also in policy and other areas as well. Some of the students that we’ve had, have gone on to become legal academics in the area of human rights law themselves. Others have gone on to work within the United Nations, in the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, working alongside the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in Africa, in a multiplicity of settings within International organisations, for the International Committee of the Red Cross and so on.

What’s next for me. I’ve said on many occasions, I’m not a great advocate for career planning. Things come along and you take them. Your options present themselves. Having just finished ten years as chair of the United Nations Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, at the moment I’m writing a book on it, but I’m still heavily involved in processes and thinking around the reform of the entire system of UN Human Rights Treaty Protection, and that will continue into the future. And I know that there are a variety of other UN opportunities and positions that may be coming up that I may be contemplating putting my name forward for in the future. But who knows? It’s good to take new challenges, but when one’s been working for as long as I have in the field, such as torture prevention, you can never really give it up.

It may sound trite, but genuinely it is seeing what so many of your students then go on to do – when you see what they say, read what they write, hear about what they may do in the organisations in which they work. And you think, I know why they think that because you remember talking to them about it. It is that sense that you have passed on something of what you have learned and you have thought, to others and see it influencing the way that they are going about their work and how they are influencing things around them that, to me, provides me with the greatest satisfaction.

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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.