#LITMqanda Post 6 – Ian McDonald

The most obvious I suppose, what made you want to study law?
I originally trained and worked as a journalist, but after a few years in the industry I realised I just did not want to do it for the rest of my life.  So, when I moved to London in 2011, I had already decided that I wanted to go back to university, in order to change career.  I briefly considered a politics or international relations degree, but I had always been fascinated by law and, when I was lucky enough to get a day job in the legal world, working for a campaign group and surrounded by brilliant lawyers day in, day out, my mind was made up.  When I studied journalism my best marks were actually in my media law modules, so I really should have known all along!
You chose to study part time, was there any particular reason for this?
I was already 26 when I went back to university, so I suppose I was a little reluctant to study full time and take such a long break from working at that stage of my life.  Besides, I had already secured a fantastic job in London, thanks to my previous journalistic experience, so studying part time in the evenings – at Birkbeck, University of London – was the obvious choice.  Financially it made good sense, too; I was able to read for my degree without having to incur any substantial debts.
How have you found studying and working?
There is no doubt that it is incredibly tough.  In the final year of my degree, for example, I was working full time, including some weekends, as well as attending lectures and seminars four nights a week.  When you have had a long, tough day at the office, it can be very difficult to drag yourself to university and engage your brain all over again.  And there is little time for any other interests.  But you have to remember that you are not alone.  I would talk to fellow students, some of whom were single parents juggling full time work and their studies, and that would really put things into perspective.  You have to make sacrifices, for sure, but that is what life is all about.  
What has been your favourite module to study and why?
Of the core modules on the LLB, probably Law of the European Union.  I have always found the entire European project, and the United Kingdom’s role within it, completely compelling, and its legal side was no different.  When you find an area so genuinely interesting, it makes studying it that much more straightforward, I think; I emerged with a mark of 84, which was by far the highest of my degree.  Studying the LLB also meant taking optional modules, of course – an opportunity you do not get with the expedited GDL.  I chose Private International Law in my third year, and I adored every minute of it.  
Have you been able to undertake much work experience (whilst working and studying)?
Eventually, yes.  I did not get any legal experience during the first two years of my degree – I just concentrated on getting the balance between studying and working right, and getting the best marks and doing the best job I could.  By my third year, though, I had decided that I wanted to practise as a barrister, so I started taking time off work here and there to undertake mini-pupillages at a wide range of chambers.  My employer was incredibly understanding and supportive throughout, which made a huge difference. 
Is there anything you have got involved in, both inside and out of Uni that has broadened your legal knowledge etc?
Working full time and studying during the evenings does not leave much space in the schedule, but towards the end of my degree I certainly started adding to my CV wherever I could.  It is a bit of a must-do if you wish to practise, I think, but broadening your horizons in such a way is also immensely enjoyable.  At university I joined our law review, where I worked on some great papers, by some wonderful authors, as an editor.  I also entered a series of student essay contests, and was fortunate enough to win two of them and come second in a third.  There were financial rewards up for grabs, obviously, but the true benefit of the sense of competition involved was that it pushed me to improve my legal research and writing skills even further.  I also got to meet the likes of Lord Hughes, the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC MP, and Professor Conor Gearty, and spend time with them discussing the law, and my legal career, which was incredible.
You are looking to pursue a career at the Bar, any particular reason why? How did you choose an Inn?
Because I just cannot imagine any other career that would both allow me to do what I love most – that is, to talk and to write about law – and challenge and improve me to the extent I desire.  I am at my happiest when constructing and countering arguments, be that orally or via written work, and the Bar will consistently push and inspire me intellectually, which is hugely important to me.  I certainly do not think I will ever be bored!  As for my choice of Inn, I was initially drawn to Middle Temple by the fact that my boss was a Master of the Bench there, and the fact that they interview all applicants for BPTC Scholarships.  I spent a bit of time at the Inn and that was that – I fell in love with the place and joined the very same day.
You were going to be studying the BPTC this year but something evening more exciting is happening for you, what made you decide to study the BCL at Oxford?  Do you want to explain a little about what it is (for those that don’t know) and your reasons for studying it?
The Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) at the University of Oxford is a year-long postgraduate degree, similar to Master of Laws (LLM) programmes at other universities but with Oxbridge’s renowned tutorials thrown in.  It is widely regarded, I think, as the most academically demanding postgraduate course in the Common Law world.  I was aware of the programme but, having set my heart on practising as a barrister, I had originally planned, as you say, on studying the BPTC straight after my law degree.  A conversation with my mentor at Birkbeck, Jolyon Maugham QC, changed all that; without his encouragement, I would not even have applied.  I honestly did not think that I had much chance of success – over 500 people apply every year, for just 90 places – so I could not quite believe it when the email arrived with good news. 
It will be a tremendously challenging year, but I am so looking forward to the experience.  I have certainly surprised even myself by how well I have done academically to date – from achieving first-class honours in my degree while working full time to winning those aforementioned essay prizes – and I am really keen to take things to the next level at Oxford.  I feel incredibly lucky to have been given this opportunity, and I am ready to push myself to be the very best I can be.  The experience will make me a better lawyer and a more rounded person, I am sure, but clearly it will boost my employment prospects also.  The Bar is one of the most competitive professions imaginable, and it goes without saying, I suppose, that, if I can flourish on the BCL, it will make my CV stand out and create openings for me that I could never previously have imagined.
Ian McDonald
Birkbeck, University of London (2011-15) – LLB first-class honours
Balliol College, University of Oxford (2015-16) – Bachelor of Civil Law

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