From City law to academia: Dr Steven Vaughan tells Legal Cheek why he sacked off a six-figure salary to teach

By on

Hugging partners in lifts and kissing fellow vac schemers

Dr Steven Vaughan, currently a senior lecturer and researcher at UCL, has told Legal Cheek why he left his City law job for academia.

Though Vaughan had every intention of becoming a criminal defence barrister when he started studying at Oxford, three vac schemes and a first-class law degree later he began a training contract at magic circle firm Freshfields, where he later qualified.

He then moved to Latham & Watkins to continue his environmental law practice, a subject he still researches today. On his specialism, he reflects:

I kind of wish, sort of, that I’d been a corporate lawyer now rather than an environmental lawyer. Corporate lawyers are right in the middle of everything and to be a good corporate lawyer you have to know bits of real estate, tax, environment, IP, employment. So I loved my specialism, but three-quarters of the time I was feeding into someone else’s transaction.

Though both firms are very different — Latham’s US West Coast heritage means Vaughan sometimes found himself getting hugs from partners in lifts, not something that happened at Freshfields — he loved them both. “I still think sometimes ‘should I have left?’,” he admits.

After nine years in practice, Vaughan ducked out of the City and found himself in Cardiff studying for a PhD in chemical regulation (“most fascinating area of law out there”). His reasons for leaving were twofold. The first is that he’d always wanted to do a PhD, and realising he wasn’t getting any younger now seemed like the right time. The second is that he was dumped after a whirlwind of a relationship and wanted to get out of London.

Though Vaughan concedes he misses doing important, headline-making work (“I loved that, I loved being centre of attention”), his academia has led him across four of the country’s most prestigious universities: Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham and now UCL.

Alongside his teaching, Vaughan has research interests spanning environmental law, the legal profession and corporate finance. He recently co-authored a paper on the experience of LGBT+ barristers, which revealed homophobia at the bar is worse than the profession-wide average.

Vaughan, himself gay, remembers feeling discriminated against when, as a vac scheme student, he kissed another vac schemer in front of a partner and experienced some pushback from associates who thought his behaviour was inappropriate. Thankfully, a chat with a partner of the firm, also gay, quelled Vaughan’s annoyance. Now, he says: “On reflection, it was a really stupid thing to have done. It could have risked my chances of a training contract offer.”

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek's careers events:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub



Good on him. He seems like a nice chap.



i Enjoyed this thank you



The UK used to be known as the ‘Dirty Man of Europe’ prior to better EU environmental legislation.

With Brexit, most of the concerns about potential new trade deals, aside from actually making any, have been about questionable food standards possibly coming along – chlorinated chicken and antibiotics in farming, for example.

However, I fear for the environment too – will we return to filthy beaches, dirty air and lax regulation for the protection of land, water and air? In fact, London is already suffering.

Don’t be deceived by those who dismiss this as silly red tape – the quality of our lives depend on it. This guy is doing a job well worth doing, in my opinion.



Everything will be in tatters soon after Brexit. EU law is there to protect us, and that it does. I am going to move to Colombia, Peru, or perhaps Brazil after Brexit so it does not affect me. I will look back at Britain with shame and hope for the best for my family.


I wish I could Brexit myself out of Brexit

Wish I could do the same. I have no real routes out of this sty.


Max Headroom

Watched this live and it was interesting, he seems like he would be a knowledgable person. However, do some preparation and have a bit of confidence, Katie! It was cringey to watch how you sheepishly asked him questions.



Have you ever considered a career as a motivational speaker?



there’s always some inadequate male trying to undermine Katie. How embarrassing for you, Max.



Good interview.

It would be interesting to follow up with a piece on the partner who went to Northumbria.



Prestigious unis: Cardiff and Birmingham?!



He got with a fellow vac schemer..? Where is Jones Day Partner?!?!



9 years at freshfields and lathams and he spent all his money. Wow. He must have had an amazing time in London. Interesting piece though.



He has a good story. Bet he could write a book on his various experiences.



why not go to the commercial bar? With a first class Oxford law degree and Freshfields training behind you? Seems like an odd choice. At least with the commercial bar you earn great money and do actual law (which, by the sound of it, is what you actually enjoy).



Yes he would be snapped up by pretty much any set if he fancied going down that path now.



From MC to US is a well trodden path and probably at least a 50% pay rise



I was taught by Steven during my time in Birmingham – great guy and academic!


I had the privilege of being taught by Steven at the University of Birmingham. Pleasure!


Nelson Mugabe

Did you intentionally put your personal email here muppet?



You intentionally chose to hide behind a stupid name. Troll.



Good interview – more of these please!


Sad Bham Student

such a snake can’t believe he abandoned brum :'(


A froglet




Great interview both, interesting perspective on changing path and the value of different viewpoints for an academic career. Thanks for giving your time!


Comments are closed.