It's never too late to change your career and fulfil an ambition – and that's just what recent LLB Law graduate Nicola Ann James has demonstrated. She's met various educational and financial hurdles head-on and is now looking forward to studying for the Bar Practice Course, thanks to securing the prestigious Kennedy Scholarship.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a mature student from the West Country. After a turbulent childhood, I left home aged seventeen with three GCSEs. During my school years, I had an abysmal attendance record and was frequently excluded for disruptive behaviour. With very few qualifications, my educational and work options were limited. However, I auditioned for an HND Music/Theatre course at Amersham and Wycombe College and was, fortunately, offered a place. This catalyst led to a eighteen-year career in the theatre and allowed me to broaden my skills in other areas of public speaking.
What brought you to London Met?
When I retired from the theatre due to disability and my role as a care giver ended after ten years, I was free to pursue my ambition to study law. I contacted London Met through Clearing and applied for the LLB Law. They were exceptionally helpful and processed my application form expeditiously. I had a telephone interview with an academic on the same day of my application, and I was officially offered a place within 48 hours. The staff I communicated with were incredibly supportive and made me feel welcome.
What did studying at London Met mean to you?
Having missed out on a traditional educational background had left me with little confidence in my academic aptitude. However, I felt deeply annoyed with myself for accepting this unfounded negative perception, and I wanted to challenge it. Being offered a place at London Met allowed me to do just that. In my first year, I threw myself into the work, studied intensely and prayed for a miracle. I didn't need to pray for a miracle – the lecturers were very generous with their time, offering first-class one-to-one support, and I felt supported at every step. Also, the employment team and the library staff provided valuable help and guidance.
I am profoundly grateful that I was given a chance to study at London Met. It has changed my life. For the first time, I feel confident applying for jobs and being awarded an LLB in Law has presented me with career opportunities that would never have been previously available. Prior to graduation, I was offered excellent job opportunities within the Civil Service and the Police.
You've recently graduated – what's your next step?
I applied for and was awarded the Kennedy Scholarship from The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn to study the Bar Practice Course in September 2022. In addition, I will be exploring different areas of law by undertaking mini-pupillages and working in local Pro-Bono clinics.
Tell us more about the work experience you gained at Uni.
My work experience consisted of a three-month internship at Tuckers Criminal Defence Solicitors. It was a court-based internship; therefore, the majority of my time was spent working alongside barristers in and around the London Crown Courts. I witnessed a plethora of criminal trials before a jury – this was a significant learning curve as, up until this point, my only knowledge of criminal law was through the lens of a textbook. To a certain extent, I had unwittingly adopted the author's opinions. Spending time in the Crown Court challenged my opinions, and I was able to start forming my own views on the criminal justice system. Having first-hand involvement in a criminal trial and dealing with a diverse range of defendants allowed me to experience the grave seriousness of a criminal trial. Unless you have spent time with the defendants, it is difficult to imagine the ordeal they face and the adverse consequences a criminal conviction will have on the rest of their lives if found guilty.
My work experience allowed me to network with a wide range of barristers keen to share their experiences and the challenges of working at the Bar. Furthermore, it dispelled my belief that it was necessary to have come from a gilded background to succeed as a barrister.
How did you find the lecturers at London Met?
All of my lecturers had expert knowledge in their field of law and beyond. Unlike many universities, our Head of Law, Barrie Goldstone, constantly interacts with the students. He followed our individual academic progress and was always available to provide educational support. Barrie is always keen to receive student feedback on any aspect of the Law School. Equally, Ronke Shoderu arranged for five students to dine at The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn, which introduced us to life at the Inn of Court and provided an invaluable networking experience for aspiring lawyers.
Did you get to use the mock courtroom?
Yes! Of course! Barrie is passionate about encouraging students, even students that don't intend to practice as barristers, to have a go at the mooting. The University runs several internal competitions each year, including the Lady Oliver Cup, where the final takes place before the Head of the Supreme Court, Lord Reed.
What was your favourite piece of Uni equipment and why?
The "Barrie" Guide to Tort, Contract and the Legal System books were indispensable learning aids in my first year of university. Barrie has drafted condensed versions of the textbooks, which pinpoint the leading case authorities and legal principles covered during the module and the examinable material.
The guides are great learning aids for several reasons. Legal textbooks are costly, and many students cannot afford to buy them until financial support for texts is available. The Barrie Guides bridge that gap and ensure the students who suffer financially are not at an educational disadvantage. Equally, utilising legal textbooks for the first time can be a very intimidating experience for those uncustomed to studying law. The gift of the Barrie Guides lie in his ability to explain the relevant principles of law in a straightforward and accessible way. Also, they are available in e-versions which can be "read aloud" from a computer. This makes them a great benefit to students with special educational needs or physical disabilities.
What's the proudest moment in your life?
During the second year of my studies (Level 5), I was nominated by my course leader Ronke Shoderu for the Neuberger Prize, awarded by The Honourable Society Lincoln's Inn. I was completely taken aback to be nominated based on my academic grades. In itself, this was an incredibly proud moment for me, as I was suffering from a case of "imposter syndrome." One of my biggest fears was whether I deserved to be studying law.
Even though I did not win, I received positive feedback from Lincoln's Inn, who were impressed with my application. I firmly believe that going through the process of completing the rigorous application form was, in itself, an achievement. Furthermore, just 12 months later, I successfully secured the Kennedy Scholarship. In retrospect, I believe that preparing and submitting my application for the Neuberger Scholarship was instrumental in my later scholastic success. It was undoubtedly some of the most valuable experience I gained at London Metropolitan University.
Tell us a little bit about your interests outside the Uni and why they are important to you.
Even though I am no longer a theatre practitioner, I am still a theatre lover and try to attend as often as possible. I own a large mountain dog that I rescued from a kill shelter in Romania in October 2022 – he was in deplorable physical condition when he arrived and had been repeatedly mentally traumatised by acts of extreme cruelty. Bringing him back into good physical health and working with him to help him overcome his fears has been highly challenging. Nonetheless, watching him begin to recover has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
Do you have any advice for anyone else considering studying at London Met?
I can only speak from the perspective of a mature student. When I began my degree, I constantly felt disorientated. Everything seemed difficult – even finding the right classroom and working out the difference between a seminar and a lecture confused me. Things that were second nature to younger people were entirely new for me. However, after the first term, everything slowed down, and I began to find my feet. So, hang in there, don't be distracted by classroom politics, keep your eye on the prize, and remember why you started. London Metropolitan is a diverse and vibrant environment; anyone motivated to learn can succeed here.
"My work experience allowed me to network with a wide range of barristers keen to share their experiences and the challenges of working at the Bar. Furthermore, it dispelled my belief that it was necessary to have come from a gilded background to succeed as a barrister."