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.

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.

 

 

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.

“Big law in a prestigious firm isn’t for everyone” – mentoring insights from law alumna, Sarah Brufal

As part of ‘Mentoring Month’ this October, we caught up with one of our current Professional Mentoring Scheme mentors, law alumna and Head of Legal EMEA at Siemens Digital Industries Software, Sarah Brufal. Sarah explains how she came to be a mentor on the scheme, and her tips and learnings for students considering joining a mentoring scheme.

A couple of years ago I did something I had been meaning to do for a long time … I sent an email to the Law Faculty at Bristol University and asked if they needed any support from an alumnus. I wondered if I could do anything useful and I was really interested to see how (if at all) things had changed since my day! I had so many great memories of being a student in Bristol in the early 90’s – wow that makes me sound incredibly old. It was a great introduction to Law and we had so many varied and talented Professors – all with such huge passion for the Law.

Amazingly I got an answer back straight away and was soon put in touch with Rosa and found myself with a new mentee shortly after that. I have had two mentees so far and, although Covid has limited the experience this year, I have taken a lot of positives and learnt a lot from the Scheme and my mentees:

  • My Most Significant Recollection: Remembering how little you really know about life in the Law when you are at University and what career options are open to you;
  • My Most Important Learning: That “big law” in a prestigious City law firm isn’t for everyone;
  • My Deepest Sympathy: Seeing how painstaking it is to complete all those job application forms with something interesting; and
  • My Greatest Enjoyment: Showing my first mentee what life In House in Industry is like when she came on work experience.

My top tip for anyone thinking of joining the scheme would be to reach out and speak up. Both my mentees have been very good at asking questions and in asking for support when needed. I think that is so important. Never think you are wasting anyone’s time or asking too much – as lawyers, who always have a view, they will tell you if they think you are!

More about Sarah

Sarah Brufal joined Siemens Digital Industries Software as Head of Legal EMEA in 2014. Since then she has worked as part of a fantastic team of legal professionals working to help bring customer success in the innovative worlds of Software and Digitalisation.

Having started her career in private practice at Ashursts and Shearman & Sterling, Sarah moved in-house and has held General Counsel roles at General Electric in London and Middle East.

Further information

Securing a mentor can help you to develop key skills that employers are looking for, such as communication and personal skills, increase your confidence and motivation and provide you with an opportunity to delve deeper into an area of law or non-law that you are considering pursuing.

Many of the mentoring schemes on offer through the Law School close for applications at the end of October 2020, so make sure you read about each scheme before applying. Find out more about our various mentoring schemes and how to apply here.

My Experience with the Law in Society Mentoring Scheme: Why I Did it and Why You Should Too

As part of ‘Mentoring Month’ this October, we caught up with recent law grad, Haneet Sagoo on why she chose to apply for the Law in Society mentoring scheme and how it helped shape her career aspirations. Find out how you can do more with law below.

It’s safe to say that signing up to the Law in Society Mentoring scheme was one of the best decisions I made in my final year. Here I’ll tell you how it worked and why it was such a beneficial experience.

Who Should Apply?

Anyone who is thinking about what they’d like to do after uni and wants to explore their options! The scheme is especially great for law students who are looking at careers outside the straightforward commercial law route. For example, I wanted to explore a career in international humanitarian aid and I was able to match with a mentor with years of experience in that sector.

Getting started

I applied for the scheme because I’d always had an interest in human rights focused work but I didn’t know what the steps were to get there. So, when I heard about the mentoring scheme where you could be matched with a professional in a sector you were interested in, I jumped at the chance!

The scheme is set up in a really interactive way from the off. After applying through PLN and being matched with our mentor, we were invited to the introduction evening where we got the chance to meet our fellow mentees, chat about what we all wanted to get out of the experience and set up a plan for our first official meeting. Our mentor was working abroad at the time so we had a virtual mentorship – all this meant was that our meetings were on skype rather than in-person! You also have to appoint a team leader which I highly recommend putting yourself forward for if you’re looking to practice your organisational/admin skills.

Mentor Meetings

So, these were the main focus of the mentoring scheme and BY FAR one of the most important things I did in final year. Every group is different but our setup was just to come to the meeting with a few questions for our mentor as starting points and then let the conversation flow. The advice and insight we gained was invaluable and really helped me to narrow down what areas I’d be interested working in. We were also incredibly lucky in that our mentor was so engaged and would send follow up documents with links to internships, volunteer programmes etc. to do with things we had discussed. One of the best things to come out of the scheme for me was my mentor giving me a contact who was doing the same volunteering abroad that I was interested in – you don’t get this kind of career help every day!

Tips to make the most of your meetings:

  • Build a set of questions between each meeting so you can get the most out of your time with your mentor, rather than just turning up for a chat!
  • Follow up on any tips or leads your mentor gives you before your next meeting – this gives you a chance to build a good back-and-forth and helps your conversations to progress.
  • Work as a team with your fellow mentees! Since you have similar interests they are the best people to collaborate with and talk to about your ideas for the future.

Why I Recommend the Scheme

Overall, I didn’t realise how much I needed the mentor scheme until I did it. Not only did it give me a chance to build connections and get advice directly from an industry professional, but I was also able to practice my communication and organisational skills. With graduation looming the pressure to know what you’re doing next can be intense but my advice is to get involved with schemes like this, explore your options and you’ll go forward with a much clearer idea of what you want!

Further information

Securing a mentor can help you to develop key skills that employers are looking for, such as communication and personal skills, increase your confidence and motivation and provide you with an opportunity to delve deeper into an area of law or non-law that you are considering pursuing.

The Law in Society Mentoring Scheme opens for applications on Monday 12 October. Many of the mentoring schemes on offer through the Law School close for applications at the end of October 2020, so make sure you read about each scheme before applying. Find out more about our various mentoring schemes and how to apply here.

Working in legal tech – an interview with law grad, Adam Hunter

Adam is a legal tech IGNITE Trainee Solicitor at Clifford Chance, who was recently recognised as one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Junior Lawyers in the UK by The Legal Technologist Magazine. During his training contract, Adam has worked in the Real Estate, TMT (Technology, Media and Telecoms) and Corporate Financial Institutions teams and has completed a client secondment at Amazon. Adam has also recently joined the Law School’s Professional Mentoring Scheme as a mentor for 2020-21.

Understanding Legal Tech

What is legal technology?

Legal technology or ‘legal tech’ essentially means using technology to provide legal services. It is increasingly becoming a strategic focus at  law firms, chambers and in-house legal teams, who are all looking to utilise new and emerging technologies such as chatbots, contract automation and e-discovery platforms to become more efficient and add value to their services to clients. Often this technology is built and designed by or in collaboration with legal tech start-ups.

When did you first become interested in legal tech?

I became interested in legal tech in my final year at Bristol Law School when I had an idea to modernise the traditional legal recruitment ‘milk round’ and help make it more accessible to students from under-represented backgrounds using technology. I built and launched an AI-based chatbot that provided students with free applications advice and connected them to graduate recruitment teams. In its first year, the chatbot was used by over 2000 students across several universities and I had the opportunity to partner with eight international law firms.

Why is legal technology important?

There are four key reasons why I think legal technology is important:

  • Being more client-centric – Legal tech provides us with an opportunity to challenge traditional methods of providing legal advice. Instead of sending advice to clients in lengthy Word documents and emails, we can consider whether it is more useful to communicate our advice to clients through tools such as online portals and sites.
  • Efficiency and competitive pricing  – Law firms are under pressure from clients to reduce their fees. Legal tech can help make our processes as efficient as possible, by reducing the more mundane tasks and automating or outsourcing some of these. This includes integrating tools such as document automation (e.g. CC Dr@ft), machine-learning contract review (e.g. Kira) and e-signing platforms (e.g. DocUSign). Ultimately, this allows us to offer more competitive fee arrangements to clients.
  • Diversification and new legal products– A lot of our clients come to us with global, complex issues. By designing and offering new products and solutions, we can have closer relationships with clients, where we are more integrated into their processes and better positioned to support their in-house legal teams with their most pressing legal and commercial challenges.
  • Influencing the future of the legal industry– Some of our ideas are best described as ‘blue sky thinking’. Perhaps they aren’t ready for our clients yet but as legal advisers, we want to anticipate our clients’ future needs and be a part of shaping the future of the legal industry.

Training Contract Advice

What would be your advice to students who want to learn more about legal technology?

  • Look to other industries for inspiration– My top tip would be to look at businesses in other industries and see how they have used technology to transform and grow. A lot of my inspiration comes from looking at tech strategies that other companies have adopted and considering if these ideas can be applied to legal processes at Clifford Chance.  In particular, I would recommend the Stratechery blog or Harvard Business Review’s Exponential View podcast, which are accessible ways of learning about the strategy and business side of technology.
  • Keep an eye out for developments in the legal tech market – I wouldn’t worry too much about conducting detailed research on the legal tech market (unless you are super interested!). However, it is useful to understand what technology is out there and any general trends in the market. I would recommend blog posts by Clifford Chance Applied Solutions, The Legal Technologistand The Artificial Lawyer.
  • Legal tech events and internships – Some legal tech start-ups offer short internships over the summer. There are also lots of events to meet like-minded students and individuals working in legal tech. The largest legal tech event in the UK, Legal Geek, is coming up in October 2020 and is free to sign up. I’ll be attending! The Law School has also partnered with international law firm, Osborne Clarke to create a LegalTech placement for current students. This opportunity partners law students with a computer science students to tackle real-life projects, using emerging technologies. Find out more about the scheme here.

What skills should students interested in legal tech look to develop?

  • Coding is not required– A lot of students ask me if they need to be able to code to get involved in legal tech. Coding is not always required. I rarely code as part of my legal tech training contract (only as a hobby). What I think is more important is understanding the different tools that are out there so that you can make suggestions such as “perhaps we can provide that using an app or an API”. There are quite a few online courses and short YouTube videos that can help get you up to speed on the latest tech that businesses are adopting.
  • Learn how digital products are developed–  Entrepreneurship is the process of turning ideas into actual products or services and when it occurs in large organisations this is often referred to as intrapreneurship. Being able to understand this process of how to turn an idea into reality (from idea, to prototype, to launch and beyond!) is super important. A great starting point is the book “The Lean Startup” which has a lot of principles you can apply as a legal tech lawyer.

How can I talk about legal tech in a training contract interview?

  • Remember it is a legal training contract interview first and foremost– Don’t forget that legal tech is an important topic that is likely to come up in your interview but it is unlikely to be the main or sole topic for discussion. It is important that you understand the firm you are applying to, can talk about your skills and experiences and also demonstrate your interest in law and commercial awareness.
  • Show you understand the implications of legal technology– Technology provides a lot of opportunities for law firms and their clients. However, it also has a lot of challenges and you must be able to show that you understand the implications of legal tech when discussing your ideas. A key concern is often cybersecurity!
  • If you discuss a legal tech idea, appreciate that your initial idea may not be perfect– Often our ideas are not perfect the first time around. Your interviewer may have more experience and provide a new perspective that you had not considered. Designing legal technology is a process. It involves learning, testing and validating your ideas step by step. Be prepared to ‘pivot’ or redesign your ideas as the interview progresses.

Good luck!

Further information

For more information on exploring specific career options, current law students can access tailored careers advice through our regular Employability Bulletin and a wealth of resources on our Blackboard page here. See our full Careers and Employability webpages here.