Congratulations on being named OUP’s Law Teacher of the Year 2015. How do you feel about this accolade? Were you surprised?
I was surprised because the other nominees were so experienced, skilled and inspirational. I was really pleased to be shortlisted and to get the award was wonderful. But whilst waiting for the result I thought that even if I didn’t win it had been great to hear good things about my teaching from past and present students and from colleagues and it had given me the opportunity to reflect on my teaching and to learn from the others who had been shortlisted. The nomination statements contain really good ideas about how to enhance teaching.
Do you have previous experience in practicing law? What motivated you to get involved with teaching of the law?
I haven’t practised law, although I don’t rule it out in the future. I have however developed a practical element to my teaching, working with groups such as Living Space Project and the Environmental Law Foundation. These groups help train UCL students in community advice work and the students work on real questions and problems facing local communities. I was motivated to teach law because when I first started teaching in the 1990s (!), environmental law was an emerging subject and I had a lot of freedom to develop courses and to learn alongside my students, often working with interdisciplinary materials. I considered that environmental law was a very important subject which deserved to sit alongside other core courses in the curriculum.
What’s the best thing about teaching law?
Teaching environmental law allows us to address very big questions about human nature and behaviour change, the role of law in tackling climate change, and the relationship between humans and nature. It is an intellectually rich and broad ranging subject and, perhaps more importantly, I have seen many of the students carry out really important work in the field of environmental law.
What are your thoughts on the legal industry at the moment, particularly the competition amongst graduates? Do you think that further qualifications can help a student stand out when it comes to the training contract application process?
There does seem to be the sense that an LLM can really help in getting a training contract, although I also tend to teach LLM students who have taken the course in order to change direction, particularly to enter the NGO sector and civil service. Like many academics I am very concerned by the levels of debt which students take on in order to undertake undergraduate and then postgraduate degrees. This greatly adds to the stress experienced by students.
How do you personally try to help your students when it comes to employability?
I have carried out mock interviews (I can be very tough!) with some success. The main career advice I give is to PhD students, many of whom want to become academics. They need to build up a portfolio of teaching and research publications as well as write a thesis and that takes a lot of work and balancing competing demands.
Do you keep in touch with any former students? Where has their career path taken them?
I do keep in touch with many students. Many have gone on to work for exciting organisations and research institutes and campaign and legal reform groups such as Eradicating Ecocide, the Environmental Law Foundation, and ClientEarth. Many also come back to talk to current students about the cases and campaigns they are dealing with. No judges yet but I’m sure that will come!