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.

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