Debbie Henigan is Programme Lead of the LPC at ULaw’s Guildford campus and also an alumna of the university. She worked in private practice for 20 years including a stint as Senior Associate at magic circle firm, Freshfields, before joining Ulaw.
I studied a law degree to enable me to have a qualification which would be useful in many areas of life. When I chose to do law as an A Level student, I hadn’t determined what my career path would be. My university gave me the opportunity to find out more about what being a solicitor would involve and through events organised by them I was able to get better insight into life as a solicitor.
Early in my career I knew I wanted to make a difference and know that I was instrumental in ensuring that clients achieved the outcomes they were aiming for. Realistically, this is not always possible though, depending on what those outcomes were, particularly in contentious work.
I am currently the Programme Lead of the LPC at the Guildford campus of The University of Law. This means that I am responsible for overseeing the successful delivery of the LPC to all students attending both Guildford and Reading.
Before joining The University of Law I worked in private practice, mostly in the City, for 20 years. I acquired many skills both as a practitioner but also as a professional providing services to clients, as the legal industry is a services industry. In 2008 I decided to have a change in career but retain my connection with law, which is when I applied to join what was the College of Law as a tutor. Since then I have taught on both postgraduate and undergraduate programmes that we offer, and progressed to being involved in the management of the campus as well as the LPC programme.
I come from a family whose womenfolk are extremely resilient and hard working. Both my grandmothers and my mother worked and I think that inspired me to work hard but also enjoy work and the benefits it brings – both material and intellectual.
I have two career highlights so far. As a practitioner, being involved in the sale of a high profile, world famous plot of real estate in London. As a tutor, being able to explain a complex point of law to a student and seeing the penny drop.
As a student working alongside fellow post graduate law students, Iaw was the common bond between us. That’s not to say that life was dull – lawyers know how to enjoy themselves too. During my time at Guildford as a student, as well as learning the law I made some lasting and solid friendships with people with whom I am still in contact with 30 years later.
To be a successful law tutor you need to know how to listen and be prepared for questions that you wouldn’t have anticipated. I relish it when a student asks a question which I hadn’t thought of before; or takes a different approach to a problem from the norm and it works as well. I am a great believer in context. Having worked as a practitioner enables me to put into context knotty problems which may be difficult to penetrate at first, but when put into a practical scenario, students will understand the point much better. To be able to do this, tutors have to have had that hands on experience in practice.
I advise students to be prepared, to be flexible as to subject area and to not specialise too soon. Also, to never forget that your knowledge and skills are much greater than you may realise. A law degree or PGDL creates a new mental discipline which previously you may not have had and skills learnt in studying the law remain with you for life and are adaptable to many areas of expertise.
Context is everything and one size doesn’t fit all. What may work for one transaction may not be appropriate for another similar transaction as the nature of the client and their objectives may differ. Similarly in education, learning methods and approaches need to be adapted to suit the needs of different types of student even though the content may be the same. Adaptability and flexibility are key.
Find out more about our Legal Practice Course (LPC)