Monday, 23 September 2013

Credit where credits are due . . . .

As I sit writing this I'm on a train heading north, en route to meet my wee aunt Myra for a  couple of days in Fort William, we'll take a stab at ascending Ben Nevis and no doubt have a good laugh while we're at it. The sun's shining outside and I'm feeling quite relaxed. That said, there's something tickling the back of my mind, it's telling me not to get too comfortable, which is probably a good thing. You see this trip is probably the last chance I'll get to relax for the next nine months. 

Next week I'm back to uni and for the following nine months  I'll be Drew Long, honours student, law clinic advisor and part time croupier, in that order. It's going to be a lot of work and will mean that I don't have too much free time. One of the blessings of the way my uni does things is it allows me to make my work at the clinic directly relevant to my studies. As part of my honours syllabus I've chosen to study "Ethics and Justice", a class ran by the law clinic director, Prof. Donald Nicolson, which awards credits for integrating case work done at the clinic with reflective essays on the ethical implications and issues raised by the work. This class represents what I hope will be a perfect blend of the practical, theoretical and academic side of a career in law.

I have been assured by other students that this is by no means an easy class, the reading list is extensive and the degree of weekly preparation required  is not for the faint hearted. . . . challenge accepted! (I'll suit up if any of my cases go to court). Despite this I am looking forward to this class more than any other. I relish the prospect of being encouraged to look at real world, concrete examples of legal work, assessing it in terms of its ethical implications then looking at how this should affect legal practice.

I began my studies prior to the introduction of the clinical LL.B programme, something which I would  have been very keen to be a part of. With this in mind I was delighted to find that this class, an integral part of the clinical LL.B, was open to those of us not on the the clinical programme. The ethos of the clinic is a good one and I'm proud to be involved with its work. By doing practical legal work for those unable to afford representation, then making an effort to view it dispassionately from a considered academic, ethical and moral point of view I hope to start forging a professional identity which I can be truly proud of. It surely can't be a bad thing that in so doing I can earn credits towards my degree.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Ding ding, round four

Now is the time, after a year of night school, three years of part time study, one year of full time study, 21 classes, 19 exams and 38000 words of assignments things are about to get serious. Yup, you guessed it, it's the dreaded honours year!

After all the blood, sweat, tears, assignments, moots, voluntary work & study sessions of the last few years I've now got to really pull it out the bag. If I'm going to become a solicitor or dare I say it, an advocate or lecturer one day I must ensure that every piece of work submitted this year is of the highest possible standard. Every mark counts, anything short of a 2:1 and I'll struggle to get a decent training contract and the faculty of advocates will forever be closed to me.

So what's the plan? Michelle Hynes has written a great blog post about the way to go about the dreaded dissertation. Time management seems key. With that in mind I've taken a few steps to free up some time for the coming year: I've stopped volunteering at CAB; I've told the mooting society that I'm taking a "gap year"; and I've made a point of getting all my "life admin" out of the way during the summer.

As far as the dissertation goes, in an effort to be super organised I had a topic in mind early in the year. I was going to focus on a piece of legislation which hadn't been published yet. Then, when the draft bill was published it was worded in such a way that it destroyed my plans. Dammit, back to the drawing board. Well almost. You see by planning early I had secured a supervisor, who has been extremely helpful in re-directing my thoughts and making sure my early work was not entirely in vain.

So here we are, T-minus 3 weeks until the beginning of term, the calendar's set up on the wall, I've tried to remove all unnecessary distractions and drains on my time. I'm feeling a peculiar mix of optimism and terror, which I recon is normal. It's time to get the "Rocky" music playing and dig in for the toughest academic year of my life.

I'd ask you to wish me luck, but I think luck has very little to do with it, this year's all about hard graft. . .

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Lessons form the 3rd sector . . .

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”― Theodore Roosevelt

I came across this famous snippet of a speech recently and it really struck a chord with me. With only a few (hopefully) short years left of law school and having done well so far, this year I decided to learn more about the law in action. It struck me that I could do this while helping people in a hopefully direct and meaningful way by joining the University of Strathclyde Law Clinic and my local Citizens Advice Bureau, so far I have nothing but good things to say about both. Both provide extensive and useful training and are highly professional, staffed by people who have a genuine interest in access to justice and social issues. I think this interest in community and access to justice are are extremely important. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the public perception of lawyers and those who work with the law can often be far form positive, but there are groups out there who are doing good work and helping people. 

A real personal benefit of getting involved with these groups is learning about the law in action. After 4 years of studying law and countless hours buried in textbooks and case law I came to a stark realisation: I have no idea how to sue someone! No idea how to take an action to court, no idea how to appeal a decision of the court, I could tell you how the 'neighborhood principle' works, explain the law's approach to proportionality or the grounds under which someone may seek judicial review. I just don't know how to get the action to court in the  first place. I'm sure this is the kind of thing that's dealt with during the Diploma in legal practice and the traineeship, (or is it PEAT 1&2 now? not 100% sure) but I'm kind of keen to find out! 

Another benefit is the work itself, since starting the law degree and returning to my trade, I've kind of gotten out of the habit of working in an office environment, trying to solve people's problems. I think that in the coming years, with the state of the economy along with the proposed changes to the benefit system and legal aid cuts there will be a mountain of people needing help from the likes of CAB and the Law Clinic.

It all strikes me as a win-win, I benefit, the organisations benefit, and the wider community benefits, having some involvement in the charity sector can only be a good thing and I'd encourage anyone thinking about it to take the plunge and just do it . . . .

Monday, 18 February 2013

Fairness, trust & honesty . . .

Horse meat lasagna tastes not bad, I'm pretty sure no-one worked out that there was a problem with the stuff based on taste. Same goes for the burgers I suppose, I doubt the current problem was flagged up because someone thought that their burger didn't taste bovine. I think the problem in most peoples mind centres around two things. One, we the good people of the UK are a bit squeamish about eating something that most of us would regard as one of the cute lovable animals, and two, more importantly we don't like being lied to. 

It strikes me that in recent times we've seen scandal after scandal, this could well be the status quo and  now that I'm  a proper adult, politically aware and interested I've only just started to take notice. I don't think that's the case however. There has been scandal and political problems for as long as there's been people. It strikes me however that the majority of the problems in recent times, from phone hacking, MP's expenses and lies about WMD's in Iraq, to banks mis-selling and fixing the libor rate through to the recent horse meat scandal all revolve around the issue of honesty and trust.  

The purpose of the law is to regulate society, make sure we behave ourselves. It works pretty well when dealing with obviously criminal behaviour, thou shalt not stab people etc etc. It does however seem to be lacking when it comes to regulating the dishonest behaviour of those in power. There was a case of a successful conviction for fraud in Scotland where a man tricked a woman into sleeping with him by pretending to be her husband (William Fraser, 1847 ARC 280). Another case where fraud was held to have been committed was where a miner who changed the labels on a bag of coal to try and earn a bonus (Adcock v Archibald 1925 JC 58), he didn't get his bonus by the way, unlike the bankers. 

So fraud can be relatively simply defined as "the bringing about of any practical result by false pretenses." It strikes me that fiddling your expenses might qualify, or lying to people to make them buy your financial products, or even telling people that they're eating cow rather than horse. I can't help but ask myself why, in these troubled times where dishonesty from above is causing so many problems, in so many industries, on such a grand scale, effecting the lives of so many, fraud convictions aren't going through the roof. 

I am aware that I may be oversimplifying things somewhat, but I do feel quite strongly that the law is failing in its role when it comes to the regulation of the behavior of those within a great many industries upon whom we rely daily. How long will we accept the justification of dishonesty under the banner of "every body else is doing it" or the Nuremberg defense when it comes to those acting within big corporations or blatantly hiding behind the corporate veil to avoid any kind of personal responsibly? 

Just some thoughts on the current state of affairs, I need to run, my dinner's on the table, Quorn lasagna tonight. 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Where am I going and how do I get there?

So, here it is, the end of the first big chapter in my formal legal education is in sight.In about 3 months time, short of any major disasters I'll have enough credits to graduate as Mr Drew Long LL.B. It has taken 5 years, countless hours of study, a great many night-shifts in my 'day job', and about £10k. I've lived in 3 different places, won a mooting competition, volunteered with CAB, the University law clinic and a small criminal defense firm.

There's also a small part of me that feels in spite of this that the phrase 'arrested development' may be somehow applicable. In the time I've been chasing the law degree I've seen a great many friends get married, have kids, progress in their careers, get mortgages, divorce, etc etc, all the while i'm still at Uni, plodding away.  So I suppose the big question is has it been worth while? Will I regret having put my life on hold to go back to School? I'm hoping not. 

Trying to find work out in the big wide world is likely to be a bit of a challenge, so I'm thinking I'll have to stay on at Uni for another year at the very least to allow me to pop the word 'hons' on to the end of the LL.B. Then, after that the diploma in legal practice, assuming of course I want to become a solicitor or advocate, which at this point I'm pretty sure I do. 

So what's next? I'm thinking I'm now hitting the point where the things start to get really tough, for two reasons; 1. The quest for a worthwhile honors classification, and 2. The hunt for the elusive training contract. 

Number 1 I've got covered (I hope), basically it comes down to good old fashioned hard work. Number 2 sees to me to be the real problem. What to do then? I think there's two possible approaches, you can either go scatter-gun and apply for everything out there and hope for the best, or try very hard to focus your studies and energy on one particular area of interest. 

My plan, for what it's worth is to go for all things criminal and take a stab at earning a training contract  with the Crown Office. 

Wish me luck . . .