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Epilepsy sufferer who left school with no qualifications launches LLM crowdfunder

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Rhys Brown needs £24,000 to follow uni dream after winning spot at Birkbeck

Rhys Brown

A disabled student who dropped out of secondary school and battled back to secure a law school place has launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover his course fees.

Rhys Brown, 25, left school with no qualifications after struggling with his medical conditions but has now secured a place on the evening LLM at Birkbeck, part of the University of London.

Brown, whose epilepsy and myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome) put paid to his dream of becoming a musician, finally managed to get a degree through the Open University.

He decided on a legal career after suing the secondary school he attended as a music scholar, winning damages for its failure to make reasonable adjustments for his epilepsy.

Brown represented himself in the case and won plaudits from the judge and opposing barrister, both of whom are backing him to become a lawyer. The judge said that Brown’s written submissions were “as good as I routinely get from established advocates in the county court”, while the barrister said that the student was “able (without any formal legal training) to conduct proceedings of a level of complexity that would challenge many fully trained members of the junior bar”.

The Birkbeck LLM is a qualifying law degree, meaning that it can be taken by grads whose first degree wasn’t in law to qualify to train as a solicitor or barrister (instead of taking a law conversion course). Brown says it will cost over £55,000 including living expenses, some of which he can cover through loans, bursaries and disability benefits.

That leaves £24,000, which the 25-year-old hopes to raise through crowdfunding on the GoFundMe website. Without it, Brown says, he is “nowhere near able to commence my master’s at Birkbeck on October 1st”.

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Brown told Legal Cheek that he’d like to help others secure compensation for breach of their rights after qualifying:

“My experience in fighting my case has enlightened me to the inherently interesting aspects of Personal Injury law from both a moral and legal perspective and considering my history as an activist for disabled rights, it seems like an area of law that will always be close to my heart.”

The rise of crowdfunding platforms has opened doors to many hard-up law students with a story to tell. Legal Cheek has previous covered appeals from Dylan Kawende, the Cambridge-bound son of Rwandan refugees and Oxford hopeful Ebun Azeez, who managed to raise £30,000 to sit the BCL.

Editorial note: Friday 16 August 2019. Following a request, the judge and the barrister’s names have been removed.

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44 Comments

GLS Trainee Solicitor

Student Finance will cover about 70% of course fees. Rest is mostly accommodation and food costs which he can cover through the disability allowance he gets from DWP, and other allowances from the government.

(36)(2)

Cat

Is student finance available for second degrees now?

(8)(0)

GLS Trainee Solicitor

Yes it’s been available for the past 2 years post grad degrees including LLM. I think you can also get the £5k student loan each year in addition to the tuition fee loan.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

They are actual bank loans, repayable straight away the year after finishing, so slightly different. Not for everyone, but those who like, or need, to get into debt to do this have it as an option.

(2)(11)

Anonymous

I got a graduate loan for my LLM – £10,000, and it’s not a bank loan, it’s through student finance.

Rhys Brown

Indeed, I have received the loan. I breakdown the costs on the Crowdfunding page, but all excess is calculated with my disability benefits in mind.

Bear in mind that I do not live in London, and I need 24/7 support for my epilepsy and CFS. University of London have been very good in helping secure suitable accommodation, but it is only term-time and no benefits cover this. The DSA isn’t designed to support accommodation, even if the excess costs are incurred as a direct result of disability, and there are no grants which exist to support this.

(22)(5)

CC Trainee

We need to see more from law firms on supporting disabled students. MC/SC firms should all have training contract spaces reserved for disabled applicants.

(21)(35)

Anonymous

Why?

(12)(4)

Anonymous

Being disabled does not automatically mean that an individual adds value to a business. Obviously each applicant should be considered on their own merits, but there is no good business case for hiring disabled people for the sake of it.

(29)(3)

Anonymous

If they are talented and have the requisite skills, they’ll be hired. If not, they won’t. Stop propagating leftist drivel.

(23)(6)

Hey

I literally don’t understand people like this. I had to get a loan from future finance and work 20 hours a week to pay for my LLM and my BPTC. Why do people think it’s ok to ask for money when it’s situations like these that make or break you. This really angers me.

(48)(31)

Anonymous

The leftist society today is always looking for a handout (social support, crowdfunding, pleading and begging). No one has the balls to work had and achieve things themselves anymore. The UK elite is to blame.

(14)(8)

Anonymous

Bollocks. I grew up with a working class (Conservative) prime minister. Education was entirely free with the govenment paying both fees and grants. That changed when the prime minister changed to a private school, Oxbridge educated (Labour) prime minister and modest fees had to be paid by students. The Collection then hiked fees up to their current level.

Wish this lad well. People should not have to beg to go to University, but there it is. Nothing to do with left or right. We had free education with John Major. Slightly expensive education with Blair. And very expensive education with Cameron, May and now Borris.

(15)(2)

Anonymous

(Coalition)

(2)(0)

Anonymous

20 hours a week? Grow up, and get a real job.

(1)(2)

Yale LLM

Good on him for not giving up but I don’t believe anyone should be crowdfunding and asking the public to pay for their university fees and expenses. I’ve seen many people scrub toilets to save up so they can go and get an education.

(34)(3)

Anonymous

I’m sorry. This is essentially £55,000 to do the GDL…

The fees for this two year course are £12,000. Why the hell does this guy need £43,000 to live off for two years??

(42)(4)

Anonymous

I’m surprised Legal Cheek hasn’t deleted this comment yet. There is no such thing as freedom of expression.

(11)(1)

Rhys Brown

Thank you for sharing this.

I appreciate the concerns regarding finances and what I can do to earn them myself.

I would urge you to read the crowdfunding article before judging though.

ME/ CFS is crippling. I have barely left the house for eight years and all energies were focussed on the Court Case. I have a full-time carer.

If I am going to beat my illness and become a valuable member of society, I need support – there’s no two ways about it. I *could* give up and forever live at home, living off the state forever, but that’s just not who I am!

I have taken out a loan and every source financial support I am entitled to, I just seek the final sum that I would likely be able to make for myself, if it weren’t for my considerable physical limitations.

(33)(16)

Rhys Brown

I appreciate your concerns, but I cannot sit back and accept my condition as crippling my career forever.

I have been given the most incredible opportunity to study law – a degree which opens up many potential career paths.

Either I accept it, try to overcome my disabilities and fulfil a dream, or I reject the opportunity and regret it forever!

(13)(7)

Good initiative

Your motivation is truly inspiring. But how will you hack the long hours that will be expected of you by City law firms?

(21)(2)

Rhys Brown

Thank you, and you ask an important question.

It’s actually partially why I chose the LLM as opposed to the GDL – it gives me two years to embark on a dedicated healthcare plan alongside my degree in the hope that on completing the degree I will be in a much better position than I am today.

I have to take inspiration from the fact that I was able to fight the court case, albeit mainly from the comfort of my couch/ bed!

Nothing is a given though, which is why a Master’s in Law is such a positive option. If, God forbid, I am still unfit to work to the level required of a Barrister, there is scope to find other career paths which are more manageable in the context of my disabilities.

Only time and a lot of work will tell!

(18)(4)

Anonymous

I wish you all the best in your endeavours. As you know, barristers work even longer hours than solicitors.

I am in no way discouraging you of pursuing your dream, but the sad reality is that businesses are money driven. Employing you would entail having to implement reasonable adjustments as per the Equality Act 2010, which is not a sound commercial decision for businesses, whether these are chambers or law firms.

Sadly, law is not a profession accessible to all.

But with your determination, I’m sure you’ll achieve great things!

(17)(3)

Rhys Brown

Thank you so much, it means a lot!

Anonymous

I can tell you categorically – having personal experience of both sides – that barristers work very considerably less than solicitors at the equivalent level. Moreover, barristers have the independence to plan their workflows and time off to a far greater degree than solicitors (at least those below partner level).

Geordie Man

I respect that you really are committed to fulfilling a dream. I also appreciate, in light of your work representing yourself in court, that you are clearly a bright and competent young man. However the sad truth is that all of this is not enough.

My uncle grew up in a poor household and always wanted to fly fighter jets. He worked bloody hard at school, got stellar grades and was very physically fit. But he had a problem with his eyesight which, regardless of everything else, ended up disqualifying him from ever being a pilot. Life just isn’t fair sometimes, and the right thing to do is not bemoan that fact but to just live with it.

(4)(3)

Rhys Brown

Thank you for your kind words and you are absolutely right about not bemoaning our lot-in-life.

It’s important to remember that hidden disabilities aren’t just hidden to the on-looker but also the sufferer. My whole life has been about discovering what exactly my limitations are in the context of my ME/ CFS and epilepsy, and this journey of self-discovery continues.

There are many career paths which I know are just impractical or impossible and I have accepted that.

I have also seen that, in the right environment I am capable of fighting an intense legal case (albeit as a Litigant in Person) and it gives me hope that, if I can make adjustments, I can one day extend that capability to professional life.

(8)(1)

Anonymous

Are you going to ask for more money to do the Bar course? I assume you won’t be able to get a PG Loan for that?

(3)(2)

Rhys Brown

I do not anticipate that I will ask for more money at that stage – for two reasons.

1. I hope to be fit to work by then
2. The Inns of Court all offer scholarships for this, as do some Chambers (I believe)

It’s not a given of course, but I never like to ask for money and this Crowdfunding only came about once I had applied for all available sources of funding.

(6)(4)

Anonymous

I’m going to set up a crowdfunding page to clear my LPC debts.

(12)(7)

The Voice of the People

I think taking aside the (some legitimate) issues of “why don’t you work for it yourself”, “it doesn’t cost that much”, “you won’t hack an actual legal job” “if you can prepare for a case in that way you can find equivalent work” etc etc…

We must question how quickly we get our backs up about these things fellow lawyers and try and detach ourselves from our typical cold-natured, critical approach.

Here is a chap that has been lucky in many parts of his life (his former schooling, his opportunities etc) and very unlucky in others (his condition meaning he has a full time carer).

He has shown a natural flair and ability with the law. Does this mean he will achieve anything of note, or even access the profession at the end of it? Absolutely not. But how many of us could be so sure 10 years ago?

Personally, while I can see the logic in some of the points made – such as focusing on health and well-being now, to build up to a point where you can work and pay for the LLM yourself by which point you can make an informed choice as to how likely you are to be able to manage a career in law, life is rarely as sensible.

In reality, without this funding I expect the dream will be put to one side, maybe where it will extinguish.

On the other hand, a £10 or £20 donation from a few people could see the reverse – emboldened and ambitious we could see this chap go on to achieve meaningful change and be a real example for those with similar conditions that feel unable to access the profession.

There is much to be glum about in the legal profession today; let’s try and see instances like this in a more positive light and exercise a little more compassion!

I have taken out loans or self funded every course I’ve ever done (which spread over 5 degrees – 3 of which are law related). It was extremely hard and I did suffer and had to make sacrifices – BUT I would rather others didn’t have to go through what I did and many others did needlessly (especially those with a disability!)

(17)(1)

Rhys Brown

This is a wonderful and very reasonable reply and I am so grateful for your words. You’re absolutely right – there is a lot of logic in the comments. I would expect no less from a website of lawyers!

If we consider my choice though, as someone who is at this stage unfit to work, I can either accept money from the tax-payer whilst forfeiting the opportunity of a life-time, or I can accept money from some voluntary and supportive donors, and dedicate the next four years of my life (minimum) to breaking free from the shackles of Epilepsy and ME/ CFS and embarking on a productive and positive career.

From start to finish, I will do everything within my means to self-fund my legal education. In the unlikely event that I raise more money than I need, I will put it in a trust which will be dedicated to improving the accessibility of education for the next generation of aspiring lawyers in my predicament!

(14)(1)

Anonymous

Nice to see someone being nice and not a sh!t for the sake of it.

(8)(1)

Anonymous

The boy’s got a great attitude. He’ll go far.

(12)(1)

Anonyman

Still deleting comments, really? Charming!

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Genuine questions being deleted.

(3)(0)

Rhys Brown

I haven’t seen what’s being deleted, but if it’s a question I can answer you can send it to the email I put on the Crowdfunding page – I won’t be offended and I won’t delete it I promise!

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Dreadful. Crowdfunding is the worst thing. Get a loan. Having a disability is not a USP.

(7)(8)

Anonymous

Hi Rhys, just to say I have instructed Robert Lazarus at 39 Essex Street and he is a very capable barrister. As he has endorsed your potential I attach great weight to this. All the best with your future studies and career in law thereafter.

(10)(1)

Rhys Brown

He is very capable indeed, and I descovered that he is also a very decent man. I saw him as a mortal enemy for so long, and it’s testament to both the man and the profession that Mr Lazarus has helped to turn the Court Case, which could have been an incredibly damaging experience, into a positive investment into my future. I am indebted to him!

Thank you so much for your supportive words. It means a great deal to me.

(9)(1)

Renell Harding

Can you guys please donate some money via my crowdfunding page (https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/getren2ulaw) so that I can pay for my GDL tuition fees? Rhys, I’m in a similar yet different position to you as I was homeless.

(2)(11)

Renell Harding

Legal Cheek, why was my comment inviting crowdfunding donations deleted? You are breaching Clause 7 of your Privacy Policy.

(5)(5)

Anonymous

Best of luck Rhys. No doubt you are a bright and talented young man that rightly deserves his place in this industry. Keep going as you are and you’ll be fine.

(4)(1)

Rhys Brown

Thank you so much for your supportive words, they mean a lot to me!

(1)(1)

Comments are closed.

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