Catherine Brydges is an alumna of The University of Law who graduated from the Legal Practice Course in 2017 and has since gone on to work with the Government Legal Department. Recently honoured by ULaw as Future History Maker, Catherine has ambitions of becoming a Judge.
I chose to study at The University of Law because of its history and reputation. I really liked the fact that the University has trained more lawyers than any other provider in the UK, and its list of distinguished alumni is hugely impressive. It was clear to me that ULaw could set me up to succeed in a legal career.
I should start by saying that the best teachers in my life have been from The University of Law – and I have had a lot of good teachers. The impact of having teachers who have been, or still are, practising lawyers, is immense. They have the comprehensive theoretical knowledge, and the real-world understanding of what actually happens in practice, which makes for ideal legal teaching.
I also found the workshops to be enormously useful throughout my time at the University. After doing the pre-reading, I would often find that although I understood the law or procedure in theory, I had no idea how it might work in practice. Doing worked examples in workshops, and talking it through with other students and with the teacher, was always clarifying.
To keep on top form I worked at least a little bit every single day, including weekends, holidays and even Christmas Day. I vividly recall trying to get my head around solicitors’ accounts on Christmas Day, without much success. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend working so much to everybody, but I do think that the suggestion to treat the LPC like a 9-5 job is a useful one. In a sense, it’s the first year of your professional legal career, so getting into good habits early is really valuable.
The other tip I have is to consolidate as soon as possible after each workshop – the same day if you can. There is a temptation to move straight on to preparing for the next workshop, but if you consolidate immediately, I think you save a lot of time and effort in the long run.
It is hugely meaningful to be nominated for the ULaw Future History Maker award; not just for me, but for my family and partner, who supported me wholeheartedly throughout my GDL and LPC – not least by spending endless hours running through literally thousands of flashcards. I am also tremendously honoured to be receiving an award alongside Cherie Blair QC and James Libson, who are such towering figures in the legal profession. It is thrilling and humbling to imagine that I might be able to achieve as much in my legal career.
I started my training contract with the Government Legal Department (GLD) in September 2017. I’m now most of the way through my first seat, which involves defending the Ministry of Defence against private law actions – mostly, but not exclusively, personal injury and clinical negligence claims.
So far, working for GLD has been everything I hoped for and more. The work is incredible – it is complex and intellectually challenging, with a political dimension in every case, and matters I have worked on have been in the headlines. The people are fantastic – they are brilliant lawyers, friendly, and always willing to take the time to explain things. The hours are civilised too.
I think that having an understanding of the law is crucial to understanding how the world works. That’s why studying law can be a great choice even if you don’t intend to go on to work as a lawyer. I remember everyone’s amazement in our first ever Contract Law session, when the teacher enumerated all of the contracts we had made just that day – buying a sandwich or a coffee, going on the tube, and so on. It was the first time I realised how pervasive law is in our everyday lives – and that’s why it is so important to understand it.
Listing everything I love about my legal career would take all day. But some of the things I enjoy the most are the intellectual challenge; the excitement of working on cutting-edge legal issues; the feeling of solving a puzzle when you develop a legal theory for a case; and working with brilliant, inspirational people.
Ultimately I hope to become a Judge, but I’d like to be in the Civil Service for many years before applying to the judiciary. In the short term I’m focusing on building a really strong foundation of legal knowledge and practical skills; then I hope to broaden my experience, perhaps by working on a public inquiry or at the Law Commission. After that I’d like to take on a leadership role within the Government Legal Department.
The most important thing for students wanting to work for the Government Legal Service is to stay up to date with legal and political developments, and particularly Brexit. Being able to demonstrate a passion for the intersection between law and politics, and an understanding of how each informs the other is crucial.
I’m really inspired by the principles that underpin the solicitors’ profession – in particular, the need for independence of mind and unimpeachable integrity. That is something I always strive towards. I love the sense of continuity from the common law in our jurisdiction. I’m a great believer in the value of the common law – the way it progresses and changes where necessary, but also has the ability to self-correct when something is not working in practice. I also really enjoy when very old cases (in Land Law, sometimes 500 years old!) are still good law – if it works, why fix it?
Most of all, I have always wanted to do something worthwhile and meaningful with my career – that’s why I chose the Government Legal Department. The GLD offers unparalleled opportunities to work on matters which have real significance to people’s lives; and it has the unique feature of being the only place where you can help to make the law, rather than simply interpret it.