Do More with Law – why it is time to learn about Self-Sovereign Identity

A blogpost by recent Bristol law graduate, Alex Tweeddale who now works in the area of data protection and privacy law.

The ‘Route-1’ approach of firing applications to law firms and hoping one will land is almost outdated. Perhaps this was the best approach for previous generations, however, there is a now a new modern, agile way of working which simply isn’t spoken about so much in University career days. For example, going to work in a developing start-up gives you experiences you simply would not get by jumping straight into a training contract.

Moreover, if you do work in a start-up and want to transition into a city law firm, you will have built up such a strong portfolio of skills, publications and contacts, meaning you may stand out from people who have been trained rigorously to the practices of a city law firm for 2 years.

An Emerging Industry – Self-Sovereign Identity

Alex Tweeddale, a recent graduate from the University of Bristol has joined IDWorks, a London based start-up, who are creating a Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) solution for companies and individuals. Alex is attempting to spread awareness about the benefits which an SSI model can provide society and wants to encourage Bristol students to get involved in the industry.

What is SSI?

Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) is a new, innovative, technological approach to digital identity, which puts the control and ownership of personal data into the hands of an individual, rather than multiple organisations. It also adds trust to digital interactions by using signed digital attributes called ‘Credentials’.

Currently, an individual’s digital identity and personal data is scattered across multiple companies’ centralised databases. For example, your Facebook profile is owned by Facebook, and if Facebook were to shut down, you would lose part of your digital identity. Similarly, to rely on a copy of your University diploma, you must request a physical copy from your University and it often it must be sealed and stamped. SSI is a technology which takes the concept of this sealed and stamped envelope and puts it into a digital format (Credential), using cryptography, and anchors it to an individual’s mobile device.

When the individual needs to share this digital diploma as proof of their degree or their identity, the verifying party can ascertain, through cryptographic resolution, that the diploma credential had been issued and digitally stamped by the University. This is more efficient and trustworthy because it removes the potential for fraudulent documentation.

Why is this necessary?

In short, the current state of data management is fundamentally insecure, and as such, individuals have lost their security, control and privacy on the internet. Individuals no longer know where their personal data is being used and companies are exploiting your data for commercial gain behind your back, and by using ‘clickwraps’ which skirt round the GDPR’s consent requirements.

It is time to take back control of your identity online!

Why should you consider this route?

Working in a start-up in an emerging technology allows you to be more creative and flexible than working in a traditional law firm. You can be creative in how you market, pitch and sell your product and the working hours are often flexible and allow remote work. Additionally, you are working towards something which will genuinely make a difference in how the world functions at its core. And if I haven’t convinced you already, often you will earn a higher salary per hours of work than starting in a law firm.

Sounds cool? Want to get involved? Drop Alex an email at: alex@idworks.io 

‘My journey from law student to pupillage and everything in between’ a blog by Harrison Burroughs

Harrison Burroughs studied LLB Law at the University of Bristol Law School, graduating in 2019. Here Harrison details his journey throughout his course and the steps he took along the way to bring him closer to his goal of building a career at the Bar.

I started my law degree at Bristol in 2016, fresh from finishing my A Levels. Coming to a university like Bristol to study law can feel like a daunting experience; thankfully Bristol could not have been better at supporting me during my degree and my career aspirations.

Work Experience

Key to any application in the legal sector is work experience. Experience is vital to show both interest and skill in a chosen area. Admittedly, when I began my degree, I didn’t even know where to find these experiences, let alone how to be successful in obtaining them.

My main tip to anyone looking for work experience would be to start small. One or two days shadowing or volunteering is a great place to start, allowing you to build up your CV over time and go on to attain more substantial schemes. Equally, pay attention to your student societies, such as Bar Soc or Pro Bono Society, as these can be a great place to find work opportunities.

Scholarships

What separates becoming a barrister as a career choice is not just the significant financial investment, but also the immense competition for pupillage spaces.

Scholarships and awards are vital to overcoming both of these issues, covering some of the costs of the BPTC year and looking great on your CV.

Each year the four Inns of Court offer millions of pounds of awards to prospective barristers, significantly contributing to BPTC fees and other expenses. Each Inn has a slightly different application process and marking criteria, but all generally focus on aspects important to a barrister like academic ability and public speaking skill. The written applications for these scholarships close in November, with interviews in the spring, so keep an eye out!

With the help of the Careers Service and Law School Employability team at Bristol, I was able to tailor my application to best suit my strengths – both on paper and in interview – and was lucky enough to be awarded a Lord Denning Scholarship from Lincoln’s Inn.

However, it is important to remember that there are many other scholarships out there. For example, the Guru Nanak Social Mobility Award is provided by Mukhtiar Singh each year to offer funding and mentoring for aspiring barristers from disadvantaged backgrounds. As the inaugural winner of this scholarship, I can’t stress enough how important and helpful this award has been for my career.

Pupillage

I was receiving my first invitations to pupillage interviews when Corona virus struck. This offered the slightly odd experience of taking almost half my interviews in person (pre-lockdown) and half over a combination of Skype, zoom, teams and practically every other video-conferencing software available.

Despite the oddity of delivering answers to your laptop’s webcam, the fundamentals of video interviews are ultimately the same as those in person. You have to be calm, clear and concise and deliver your answers well – albeit sometimes with the added difficulty of your neighbour conducting DIY through the wall.

After a stressful spring period, balancing interviews with exam prep, I accepted an offer of pupillage with No5 Chambers, specialising in Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence.

It’s hard to put into words the amazing feeling when you receive that phone call informing you of your success. For me, this was the culmination of years of work and studying. It made all my hard work feel worth it.

I hope this blog has helped any students considering a career at the Bar. The Bar is undoubtedly an immensely difficult career path and my own experiences show it requires a lot of hard work. However, with a great deal of perseverance, success can be within reach.

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.

‘Beyond your tassled caps’ – rising to the challenge of adulthood, a law student perspective

Originally posted during Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2020, we look back on law student, Iona Holmes’ thoughts on coming to the end of university and handling the stress of ‘the real world’.

Her blogpost was originally posted on the ‘That’s What She Said’ magazine. That’s What She Said is an award-winning online and print magazine comprised of many student writers, illustrators and photographers at the University of Bristol. Find out more on their website.

Leaving the university bubble is daunting. Not only is there pressure to get an actual, real life adult job, but the days of free rein over how you spend your time suddenly disappear. Don’t get me wrong, university has its ups and downs. But studying (hopefully) engaging subjects, revolving your time around friends and finding people passionate about the same things as you, is a pretty sweet lifestyle.

As I’m approaching my final term, this is something I’m trying to keep in mind.

Speaking to friends who’ve already made the transition to working-life, I’ve realised how important it is to embrace the opportunities open to us  – whether that’s throwing yourself into campaigning, finally learning how to tango or simply enjoying the luxury of spending a Thursday hungover in bed. In our last few months, we should reflect on what we’ve learned throughout our uni years, both personally and academically. Recognising the hurdles you’ve already cleared is just as important as looking for the obstacles up ahead.

Despite my best efforts to focus on the here and now, inevitably, the dreaded question hangs over me. Whether it’s from distant family members round the Christmas dinner table, or over a pint with school friends I haven’t seen for months, the words  ‘so, what are you going to do next?’ seem to be coming at me from all angles. I know they don’t have malicious intentions, but this doesn’t stop the fear setting in as I reluctantly admit that I’m not quite sure. As much as I’m delighted for friends who have had their five-year plan in place since day one of freshers’ week, I find it terrifying how secure the next few years of their lives are, while I’m still floundering in a state of limbo.

Whenever I feel a bit lost about what to do, I turn to Maya Angelou’s ‘Letter to my Daughter.’ Part memoir, part poetry and all-round feminist guidebook, her words echo like comforting blues rhythms. With graduation looming, I’ve been flicking through the pages, searching for both comfort and inspiration around approaching the next chapter of my life.

As ever, Ms. Angelou’s words of wisdom deliver. Her advice seems intuitive but is often obscured in anxiety-inducing conversations about the future. If I were Hugh Brady, I’d have this extract etched onto the walls of every teaching space:

Look beyond your tasselled caps,
And you will see injustice.
At the end of your fingertips
You will find cruelties,
Irrational hate, bedrock sorrow
And terrifying loneliness.
There is your work.

Find what moves you. Find what makes you feel, what makes you outraged and what you want to change. Of course, this line of thinking does not directly lead you to a job. But, it’s an important starting point. Sometimes, it may even be a case of carving the space for that work by yourself. University of Bristol alumnus Liv Little channeled her frustration at the lack of diversity at university into creating the sensation that is gal-dem, to platform stories of women and non-binary people of colour.

Once you’ve worked out where your passion lies, reflect on your strengths and what you can contribute to the big picture. This could be conducting empirical research, directly supporting vulnerable individuals or developing budgets – we need to utilise our various skills and work collaboratively to make a difference.

Beyond this, consider what you want to achieve outside the workplace. Just as essays aren’t all there is to university, work isn’t the only component of ‘adulthood.’ Ponder how much time you want to spend working, where you’d like to live and the role you want to play within your community. The career path you follow will impact what you’re able to do out of the office.

It’s also important to remember that even if you think you have it all planned out, your first grown-up job may not be everything you hoped. Our expectation that things will fall into place once we land that grad job tends not to reflect reality: life is always messier than we’d like. Your 20s are your time to explore your options and allow yourself to grow. A significant part of this is being able to admit when things haven’t quite gone right and figuring out how to move forward.

To rise to the challenge of adulthood, we should continuously reflect on what we’ve achieved, where we are now and where we want to go. Nobody can tell you exactly what to do next. Nor do you need them to, because in Maya’s words: ‘’you are intelligent and creative and resourceful, and you will use your life lessons as you see fit.”

Artwork by Laura Stewart-Liberty.