How To Go From Corporate Law Into Human Rights Academia

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Most people don’t stay at the law firms they join as trainees all that long. When I interviewed Freshfields lawyer-turned-author Jonathan Lee on Wednesday about his brilliant new book ‘Joy’, he told me that only five out of the fifty trainees in his 2005 intake are still there.

This week’s #RoundMyKitchenTable podcast guest, Jill Marshall, is another ex-Freshfields lawyer who decided to try her luck outside corporate law. Rather than stick around to battle it out for partnership, Marshall elected instead to do a PhD and pursue a career as a legal academic at Queen Mary, University of London, just down the canal from Legal Cheek’s studios in glamorous east London.

Such a switch is anathema to podcast co-host Kevin Poulter, a lawyer at Bircham Dyson Bell, whose gritty Doncaster roots cause him to view learning with suspicion. “I can think of nothing worse than going back to being a student,” says the Yorkshireman at one point during the podcast, before returning to the sketch of a coalmine he spent much of the evening completing.

Unlike Poulter, Marshall might not pull in the corporate megabucks anymore, but her life as a senior law lecturer sounds great – involving a mixture of research (her specialism is moral and legal philosophy), supervision of PhD students, lecturing of undergraduates and running a masters course on the human rights of women.

“The trouble with this country is that people don’t make things anymore,” interjects Poulter as Marshall outlines her role, before handing me his finished drawing.

“More wine, Jill?” he adds.

Listen to all the fun we had below – or on iTunes.

The podcast is also available on iTunes.


Kevin Poulter

To clarify, my artistic talents don’t stretch that far!



One of the things they don’t tell you as a future or current trainee, amidst all the over-the-top reporting that goes on by the legal magazines on trainee / NQ retention rates (probably because getting the data on other staff turnover is too difficult), is that the majority of trainees at most City firms will have left within a few years of qualifying. Of course, a few go to other City firms and do similar work but others go to quite different smaller firms, go-in house, move back home out of London, move overseas, switch to academia, do something completely different to Law, etc. The structure for big firms is to take vast numbers of trainees in the knowledge that by five years’ PQE most of them won’t be there (compare trainee intake with overall assistant / associate numbers and it is obvious most people have left one way or another). We have seen some decline in City trainee intakes but firms still seem happy to train up a lot of solicitors and then allow them, or even encourage or push them, to move elsewhere after a couple of years.


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