#LITMqanda Post 2 – Emily Lanham

The most obvious I suppose, what made you want to study law?

A number of things; when I decided to go to University I was 16 years old, it’s hard to justify your life plan as sensibly as you’d like to at that age, especially in hindsight.

I spent a lot of my teenage years bored and roaming the streets of rural Norfolk where I grew up. We weren’t bad kids really, as much as we’d like to think we were, but I think the police were as bored as we were. I was constantly being stopped and searched for being in an “area of antisocial behaviour”. The treatment of juveniles in the eyes of the law has as a consequence become a passion for me, that definitely sparked my interest to study law further down the line.

I won’t bore you with the other academic reasons.

You have mentioned previously that your law degree was much more problem scenario based – can you elaborate?

At York Law School they mimicked the way that most medicine courses are taught now; practically. Law is a vocational course most of the time so they decided to teach it as such.

Each of us was put into a “student law firm” of around 9-12 people. Each week we were presented with a scenario based on the main topics: tort law, property law etc. Then we’d try and work out what the learning objectives were that week – in other words, what legal knowledge would we need to answer this client’s questions. A week later we’d come together and give our feedback.

It was incredibly autonomous. We had lectures once a week but apart from that  there was very little contact time. None of it was compulsory either; it was up to you to make the most of your learning. It suited me. I don’t think I would have lasted a year in a more traditional learning environment. I like seeing the application of law. Theory is harder for me to accept. Plus, when I got to my first legal job I already knew how to fill in legal forms; how the court application process worked; how to conduct client interviews and negotiate. That’s rare as an undergraduate.

How have you found studying the BPTC part time?

Hard work. It’s very different to the full time course. The mix of a full-time job and the course is something that’s tough to keep up. All you want to do after getting home from the office is eat your food and go to sleep. The last thing you want to do is more work!

I also think that the part time course is a bad way to study practical skills like advocacy. We don’t do it frequently enough. Once a month inevitably means that you forget the skills you learnt the month before. The full time course allows you to use those skills again and again very quickly.

That being said, the full time course is very intense and I couldn’t bear to go back to fulltime education. In general, I wouldn’t envy anyone doing the BPTC at all! It’s damn tough. If you are going to do it you have to think very carefully about your learning style and what suits you, or you just don’t have a chance.

How do you manage to work? study? go to one a month weekend classes? pro-bono? Qualifying session dinners? Big Voice?

I get asked this question a lot, as you can probably imagine. I don’t know how I do it, I just keep going until I feel myself getting fatigued, head out of London to my parent’s in Norfolk where there’s no phone signal and no wifi and shutdown for the weekend.

It’s a lot to do but I find ways to work flexibly and I most definitely know my own limits.

I’m not a superhuman though, there are so many of us juggling 150 things at once. If you want to go to the Bar it’s just something you need to know how to do!

Any top tips for those thinking of doing the same thing?

Don’t. If you don’t have to, don’t.

Everything I do, I do because I love it and not to build a CV. I think that’s the key.

Everyone is trying to get opportunities to look great on a job application and there’s nothing wrong with that, we all bear that in mind especially at graduate level, but the things I do that push me to breaking point I can only do because I am enjoying it. The second I stop enjoying it, I will have to quit because it would ruin my health and happiness.  That’s most important to me.

Another point to bear in mind is that I run a charity. This is no longer about what I want; it’s whether or not I can deliver a service to users that is good enough. If you don’t enjoy pro bono work, your client will suffer. That’s not fair. If I can no longer deliver a quality service, I have to step down.

When you’re at university or doing a vocational qualification, especially in the legal world, people are constantly telling you to sort out your CV and fill in the gaps. Don’t just look for a tick box. If you do the same extra curricular activities as everyone else then you’re the same as everyone else. No one wants that. Do things that interest and excite you. Think outside the box.

Find things that are flexible for pro bono work. Not everything happens on a week day. Find things that you can set your own times for. If there isn’t one, make it!

If I had the luxury, and didn’t love my overly busy life, I would take my time and do one thing at a time. That way you can focus and do it well. The best pupillage candidates I’ve seen have been late 20s and early 30s; they have life sorted. You have time.

Oh, and finally. Remember to socialise. It can seem tough, especially when noone understands how hard you work and how weird your world is, floating around in a gown in Elizabethan Halls, but friends outside the legal profession keep you grounded. That reality check is often a life saver.

Have you got involved with anything at uni or outside of uni that is law related?

– Landmark Chambers
– IPSEA
– mini-pupillages
– legal writing
– EDSM Committee at Middle Temple
– BVL

As mentioned above you are one of the Directors of Big Voice, explain a little bit about what it is, what you do, the events and the twitter chats?

So myself and V, are co-directors of this fantastic group we took over about two years ago. Big Voice London is a charity that helps young people from boroughs across Greater London engage with current issues of law and encourages diverse access to the profession. We’re supported by the Supreme Court and run two projects with them, focusing on the judiciary and advocates. Then in the second half of the year we run projects in Parliament like the Model Law Commission.

Other events happen sporadically throughout the year like the Middle Temple lectures and the twitter chats -run once a month which I know Lawyer in the Making has had a lot to do with – both of which encourage a wider audience discussion of relevant legal and professional issues.

My role as Director is varied and busy. Basically we run the charity. So we have all the behind the scenes admin and board meetings going on, designing projects and future events, but we also get to help our volunteers and coordinators during the projects. Honestly, my job description would change weekly and be about 12 pages long. It’s great!

You have also written for some legal magazines – for anyone else interested how did you get invited to do so?

I can’t really remember. I wrote a couple of articles during a project I went on in India, and after that I think I realised I had something worth saying. It’s hard to get published on reputable sites but you can show case work on your own blog and people are more likely to accept when you pitch something to them with a link.

I actually got headhunted for a freelance writing job off the back of my blog, so you never know!

Emily Lanham

York University Law LLB

BPP Holborn BPTC part time 2016.

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