As one chapter ends, another one begins!

After six years of university (one part-time), two universities, a year out and umpteen health related hurdles I have finally completed my undergraduate legal studies.  On Tuesday, I found out that I had passed my dissertation and my one remaining module.  This afternoon I found out that I have been awarded a Bachelor of Laws with Honours (Second Class, Upper Division).  It’s been a hard slog and not been without its stress, but I’ve done it!

Fourth year has been a truly exciting year having participated in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition along with four other fourth year Stirling law students and written my dissertation (looking at whether Scotland should adopt a codified system for the criminal law).  I gained a top-end 2:1 for my dissertation, which I was really pleased about.  I’m figuring out what I could do with my dissertation so it doesn’t just gather dust on a shelf somewhere!

My graduation ceremony will take place on Wednesday 26 June 2013 at the University of Stirling and I can’t wait.

I’m waiting to hear from the University of Strathclyde as to whether I have been successful in obtaining a place on the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice.  That won’t be until July so right now is just about enjoying not having any academic work to undertake.

Hopefully, I’ll have the time to blog about my experiences on the Diploma here (unlike with most of the last two years of my undergraduate degree!).

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What next?

So; here we are.  It’s almost at the end of my undergraduate studies:  I have just 8 weeks until my dissertation is due and just four months until I’m supposed to graduate.  It’s not been an easy run to get here; it has been full of ups and downs including what was effectively a two year break in the middle to recover from some health problems.  However, despite all of that I’ve nearly completed an LLB (Hons.) degree.  Great! What next though?

When I started studying law in 2006 I did so primarily to prove to myself and to others that I wasn’t stupid and that I could cope with the academic rigour of a law degree.  As time passed I grew more and more in love with the law and became surer that practicing law was what I wanted to do.  However, as the “end” has drawn closer I’ve began to feel less sure about the practice of law.

After the summer I had planned to go on and study the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice.  However, I’m not so sure.  I might just be in the middle of a phase right now and that the practice of law is what I’ll end up going on to do.  However, I’m not sure I want to spend the huge sums of money required to undertake that course only to get to the end of it and still be in the position of not being sure whether law really is for me.  It would be a gigantic waste of money.

While I feel less sure about the practice of law as a career; there isn’t really anything else jumping out at me as an alternative.  For the last few years I’ve been so focussed on becoming a solicitor that I’ve not given much of a thought to what I would do as an alternative.  There are things that I am passionate about (law included), but there seems to be nothing just now that I am passionate about doing.

I have given some thought to doing an LLM, but if I did that I would be using the money for the diploma.  If I did do that and got to the end of it sure again that the practice of law was what I wanted to do then I probably wouldn’t have the money to make that a reality.

This will probably come as a surprise to many of the people closest to me and who know me best.  Throughout this period of doubt I’ve been going through my plans to qualify as a criminal defence solicitor; it just rolls of the tongue now because I’ve been saying it for so long.  However, for months now I’ve been feeling as though it’s not what I really want to do.

I’m still passionate about the law and I’m still passionate about justice and about ensuring a fair and balanced criminal justice system.  However, that passion doesn’t seem to extend into a passion to “do” any longer.

Those that have been following my journey over the last 5 years will know there have been times in the past where I’ve felt like this, but those have been fleeting and when I’ve been about the practice of law the spark has come back.  However, that doesn’t seem to be happening any more.

In essence, I’m lost.  I’m a few months away from graduating and I’ve went from having a solid plan of what comes next to being in a position where I haven’t got a clue!

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Semester 6: Week 2

So, the end of week two of the new semester has arrived and on the whole it has been another productive week.  The full workload has yet to kick in though so over the coming weeks I expect things to get a lot tougher in terms of the number of hours I’m putting in.

This week started off with a look at incitement to hatred offences focussing particularly on racial, religious and sexual orientation.  It’s a really interesting area of law and is difficult to get the right balance between the rights of groups to be protected against hatred and harassment, but on the other hand protecting the rights of another group to hold and express their own views, regardless of how distasteful others might find them.  There is a very thin line and looking at some of the cases from around Europe on similar points shows how easy it is to simply get it very wrong.  Following that lecture I was off to a tutorial for the same module, but looking at last week’s topic of “hate crime” more generally.  The tutorials are really good as a free and frank exchange of views is permitted.  I’m sure if Alex Salmond, Kenny MacAskill or Roseanna Cunningham were sitting in the room they’d probably have had something to say about it all!

Tuesday saw the next Employment class and a continuation to look at the “Contract of Employment”.  Really quite a tricky concept for something that one would have thought was fairly easy.  There are so many factors upon which a set of circumstances can turn and the wrong result for a person can be disastrous (although good for the company involved!)

The second Commercial Arbitration class didn’t go quite as well as the first one did.  It was simply one of those classes where you enter thinking that you have a good grasp of the subject under discussion, but throughout it seems as though you don’t but by the end you realise that you did indeed have a good grasp of the subject.  I’m hoping that this isn’t a repeated theme of the module as that will probably lead me to “switching off” in class and that’s when you miss the things that you thought you did understand, but really you missed the point by a mile!

I’ve started to gather thoughts and material for two of my essays.  One of them I have enough to be getting on with and writing.  While it’s the last one due in it’s going to be the easiest one to write and getting it out of the way could allow me to focus properly on the two that I need to do more work on.  (The “easy” one being one on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act, which I’m sure you know I have a lot of views on!)

The amount of reading continues to be voluminous.  I notice a further increase between this semester and last semester now that I have three honours level courses on the go instead of just two!  It’s still a lot of hard work, but I’m still enjoying it and I really can’t imagine myself doing anything else just yet!  No doubt as the weeks progress I’ll have my standard week or two of “I can’t do this” and “It’s too difficult”, but I’ll still be enjoying it all in the middle of the chaos.

Anyway, it’s now the weekend and I intend to enjoy it while I’m still in a position to have both Saturday and Sunday off.  In a few weeks I’ll be in full swing with deadlines approaching and will probably need to give up at least part of the weekend to work to keep on top of everything.  Have a good weekend all and I’ll be back next week with another update (one that’ll hopefully be a lot more interesting as well!)

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Semester 6: Week 1

So, the end of the first week has arrived and I don’t think I have ever been this glad that it’s Friday.  The first week back has been an absolute nightmare that has been full of problems and doubts.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter you’ll probably see that financially things aren’t that great just now, but there is hope on the horizon there with a meeting at the uni next week to try and get some money from the hardship fund and also a couple of job interviews (I’ve had plenty of interviews just very few actual job offers and the offer I have had the working hours have clashed with when I’m supposed to be in uni).  I know that things will work out and I have every confidence in God’s provision.  I’m sure this is where I’m supposed to be in my life so He won’t let anything get in the road (even if sometimes I forget that!).

My week has been really busy and we really have hit the ground running, as they say!  On Monday afternoon I had my first lecture which was for my Prejudice, Discrimination and Criminal Law module.  I studied a similar module last semester which looked at prejudice and discrimination in the context of the Civil law and that was really interesting.  This module will look at hate crime, incitement to hatred, encouraging terrorism, aggravated offences and the big one for Scotland: Sectarianism.  We’ll be looking at the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act, which will be interesting.

On Tuesday I had my first Employment Law lecture.  Again, this looks like it will be a really interesting module.  Although it does look like there is a huge amount to get through over the course of the semester, so I am sure that it will prove to be a challenge!

My next class wasn’t until Friday and that was my first class for Commercial Arbitration.  This is a module that I was not looking forward to.  It’s an area of law that I am not really at all interested in and had to choose it or the Law of Banking and Finance (which I’m even less interested in).  The amount of reading required each week is significant.  However, the teaching style seems to suit me better.  It’s a 2 hour class that is based around discussion of the issues in hand that week (so preparation is a must).  The lecturer is really nice and is really passionate about the subject (which helps a lot).  So, after the first class I think that it won’t be as painful as I thought it would be.

The full timetable kicks in next week with the tutorials starting for the other two modules and although the workload looks light for those two I am under no illusions that it will stay that way.  I’m expecting to have a very busy semester!

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Preparing for Semester 6

Blogging last semester went out of the window very quickly for some reason that I never quite identified.  I suspect that the most likely reasoning is that my weekends were so busy and on a Friday evening the last thing I really could be bothered doing was writing about my week.  However, I hope that the same lack of enthusiasm will not be a feature this coming semester.

Unlike just about every other university in Scotland, the University of Stirling has not yet returned after the winter break.  Our exams are before Christmas and rather than having re-sits/deferred exams from the Autumn semester in the summer they are held in January which contributes to a slightly lengthened holiday (allowing for papers to be marked and verified, grades to be released and re-sit/deferred exams to take place).

On the whole last semester was fairly successful.  I didn’t do quite as well as I had hoped that I would, but for the two honours modules that I sat I managed to achieve a 2:1 in both so I can’t complain too much as this sets me up quite well.  However, I would like to get a couple of firsts under my belt to act as a bit of a buffer.  I hope to get at least one, if not two, this semester.  That will mean upping my game in my examination performance quite significantly.

Over the course of the Spring semester I will be studying the delights of Commercial Arbitration, Labour law and Prejudice, Discrimination and the Criminal Law.  The latter of which I am looking forward to what with the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2011 coming into force next month.

So, semester officially begins again next week, but my first class of the semester doesn’t look as though it will be until Thursday of next week.  So, with a week and half left until then it is time to begin focusing on law again and getting into the correct mindset for the semester.  If previous semesters are anything to go by then before I know it the summer will be here and I’ll be staring fourth year and the dreaded dissertation in the face!

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LCF SYL Weekend (28 – 30 October 2011)

I arrived at Chesterfield Station tired and weary after a 5 hour train journey from Glasgow on the Friday evening and was greeted by some representatives from the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF).  I arrived at the same time as another delegate at the conference, but they had only joined the train at Sheffield and so was a little less weary than I was.

One of the LCF representatives drove us from the station in Chesterfield to Cliff College and Conference Centre,   Calver which was about a 20 minute drive away.  We were told that the drive would take us through some really nice places, but having arrived at just after 8pm it was dark and we missed out on the opportunity to see the quite beautiful Derbyshire countryside through which we were driving.

Having arrived quite late on in the evening there was only enough time to take my luggage to my room before the first meeting of the weekend.  There was a cold buffet for dinner which was open for most of the evening, but that had to wait.  Nothing all that interesting happened at the first meeting.  It was really rather basic introductory stuff, but we did read through the entire book of Malachi, from which the talks we would hear and discussions we would take part in would be based.  Afterwards some people wandered into the local village to the local pub while others remained at the centre and got to know each other.  I did get the impression that those who fell into the latter category were those who had arrived later and were in need of some food though!

Saturday was a very full day with Devotions at 8am coming from Malachi 1:1-5 led by Jeff Ventrella (who had travelled much further than I: Arizona, USA!).  Jeff is an attorney working with the Alliance Defence Fund in the USA.  I had started my day a bit earlier with some time alone outside in the quite beautiful grounds of the venue.  Our first main talk of the day came after breakfast which was on Malachi 1:6-2:9 and was given by Steve Sanderson (BMS World Mission).  Steve’s talk provided the context and background to the book of Malachi which helped to ground our studies of it over the weekend.  He spoke about how there was something inherently spiritual about being involved in securing justice.  He explained that justice and the law comes from God and that as such God’s role cannot be overlooked.  He challenged us as to what our ambitions were in our legal careers and where we placed each of these ambitions.  I really took away from Steve’s talk that it is quite alright to aim to make partner or to take silk, but what is important is that our overall ambition is to honour God and bring glory to his Kingdom in the work that we do in our law schools and in legal practice.

Following Steve’s talk we broke off into discussion groups to discuss our thoughts on what Steve had to say.  We were assigned into discussion groups that would remain throughout the entire conference.  This, I feel, helped a great deal as it essentially resulted in a conversation that lasted and developed throughout the entire weekend.

After a coffee break the Executive Director of the LCF, Mark Barrell, talked to us about the work that the LCF was doing and the very real challenges it faced as an organisation.  Like all charities in the current climate funding is a real problem and he explained the decision to start requiring members to pay subscription fees.  For students it is no real hardship and costs just £5 for an entire year.

After Mark’s talk we headed off to our chosen seminar.  I decided upon the “Grounded in Truth” seminar which was how to prepare and run a Bible Study (or rather how not to prepare and run a Bible Study).  It was really quite informative and gave me an opportunity to discuss with others how to go around getting an LCF group at the University off the ground.  From the conversations I had with others throughout the weekend I gather that the other three seminar options were just as good.

After lunch there was some free time in which we headed into the local village and ended up at the tea and craft shop.  Some went the longer route, but I opted for the shorter one.  It was a good opportunity to talk to some more people and just generally have some fellowship.

In the evening we had our second main talk which was delivered by His Honour Judge David Richardson (who became known simply as “the judge” by many of those of us who attended).  Judge Richardson is a Circuit Judge on the South Eastern Circuit.  He spoke to us that evening on Malachi 2:10-3:5.  He delivered a very practical and challenging message for those already in legal practice or considering entering legal practice.  He spoke about God as a witness and the challenge lawyers have to be witnesses themselves.  He told us that we should be the people who come forward and speak out where we see an injustice.  I don’t think I could condense my pages worth of notes into a summary that would do his talk justice.

We again broke into our discussion groups and discussed the talk that we had just heard.  These discussions continued over dinner (which was really very nice).  After dinner we had a talk on some of the mission opportunities offered by the LCF, heard from people who had been on the short mission trips at Easter and during the summer and also heard from someone currently taking part in the longer term option available.  The wonders of Skype allowed us to speak to an intern sent out to Africa by the LCF!  After this there was a fun quiz which gave us an opportunity to get to know each other a little better.  Once again, a number of folks ended up in the local pub where the conversations continued.  Some were “shop” and others were more general.

Sunday morning began with Devotions led again by Jeff Ventrella this time coming from Malachi 3:6-12.  A short and encouraging message followed by some corporate prayer as well as prayer in smaller groups of 2 or 3.  It was a great opportunity just to pray with and for each other as the final day of the short weekend began.  After breakfast we packed before hearing from Jeff Ventrella on the work of the Alliance Defence Fund and the opportunities available with the Blackstone Legal Fellowship.  After Jeff we heard from Ruth Davidson from the International Justice Mission (IJM).  Again, we heard about the fantastic work being done there in ensuring those who are enslaved by traffickers are rescued and cared for while those involved in the trafficking are brought to justice.  Some good opportunities are available in terms of internships around the world which could be very challenging.  This section was rounded off with a presentation from Andrew McKay on the work of Philemon and what Philemon UK does to support the main Philemon ministry.  All three presentations opened up a number of interesting opportunities that could really help us individually and also help (in a very small, but important way) to tackle injustice around the world.

After a short coffee break HHJ Richardson brought us our final main talk which challenged us to consider throughout our legal career who are the vulnerable and who are being exploited.  It came from Malachi 3:13-4:6  He reminded us that the law is not only to protect those who Christian’s approve and delivered a challenging message that reminded us that while people may be engaging in lifestyles not supported by biblical teaching it is important that the law protect those people who might be vulnerable and that we should support it doing that.  He explained that we can protect vulnerable people without undermining our beliefs and demonstrated this using the example of the breakdown of a relationship between people who cohabit.  His message also talked about the criticism that we might face when trying to do the work of God and how we can become discouraged as a result.  He explained that as a way of dealing with this that we should meet with fellow Christian lawyers/law students and how important this is when we are discouraged.  He reminded us that God listens to and hears prayer and that we should never underestimate the importance of prayer.  He explained that when in legal practice we should pray for our work and for our cases (i.e. that justice would be done and that all involved would feel as though their case had been fairly heard and that justice had been done).  He also reminded us of the importance of counting our blessings.  He challenged us to name all of the blessings we have received when feeling as though there are no rewards or results in the work we are doing.  Judge Richardson concluded by looking at judgment.

After Judge Richardson’s talk we broke into our discussion groups for one final time to discuss what we had just heard and also what we had taken from the conference overall before having a final meal together and our respective journeys home.

Personally I took a lot out of the conference.  It helped me to understand how to be a Christian Lawyer and not just a lawyer who happens to be a Christian.  It has given me a lot to think about in terms of how I approach my legal studies and has given me lots to put at the back of my mind to be recalled when the time comes for me to enter legal practice (or whatever I do in the future if it is not within God’s will that I practice law).  It was certainly worth the money and the lengthy trip down.  There are real challenges in trying to study and practice law in a way that honours God, but through the various talks and discussions throughout the weekend it was abundantly clear that practicing law in a Christ-centred way is not impossible.  I am reminded of a debate that I had on Twitter with someone about the ability to do this.  The other individual clearly didn’t get how it was possible and to some extent neither did I.  However, I maintained that it was possible and that it was something I was determined to do.  It was undoubtedly confirmed during the weekend that it was possible, but certainly not an easy task.

I’ll end this rather lengthy blog post by saying that I strongly recommend that any student or young lawyer who is a Christian first joins the LCF if they have not already and makes the effort to attend the SYL weekend conference next year.  I’ll certainly be looking to attend again next year.

Apologies for the length of this entry and a more normal service will resume soon.

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Weeks 3 and 4: getting busier

The last two weeks ate university have been rather busy, but not much has happened that is at all worth blogging about.

All classes are now well and truly underway and the amount of reading that needs to be done in any given day continues to increase.  I’m mostly enjoying this semester with Evidence and Prejudice, Discrimination and the Civil Law proving to be interesting modules.  However Tax is causing headaches each time I look at it.  I should have more confidence in myself as I keep thinking that I have understood it and then somebody asks a question the response to which confuses me and I begin to think that I haven’t understood it.  However, once the response to the question is clarified I am usually left in the position of having understood it from the start!  All this helps to intensify the headaches that seem to accompany each tax class!

There was a little bit of confusion last week when the University sent us an E-mail saying that the Environmental Law modules was not going to be running next semester, and indeed it never was supposed to have been.  A great number of third and fourth year students had selected this module so this meant that we all had to fight for places on the modules that would be running next semester.  Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I had the choice of just two modules in place of Environmental Law: Commercial Arbitration and Banking and Finance Law.  Neither of these particularly takes my fancy as the commercial areas of law simply do not interest me.  However, in order to get my degree from Stirling I am going to have to, unfortunately, take some commercial orientated modules.  You can read about my displeasure with the module selection offered at Honours level at the University here.  In the end, following some advice, I decided to select Commercial Arbitration as it is most likely to have skills that are transferrable to other areas of law, particularly around negotiating.

Mooting season is about to begin at the University.  I understand that the first round will take place this semester with the remaining rounds and final taking place after Christmas.  I have my name down to participate this year and I am really looking forward to it.  I’ve not mooted since 2007 due to taking time out from university and then trying to get used to being back in full time education last year.  I’m sure that will provide for some more blogging material.

Anyway, that’s all for this update and sorry for my tardiness in updating weekly!

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