Name:
Emma Walker

College: Grey College
Subject: European Studies & Spanish
Class of: 2007

Location: UK
Employer: Leigh Day Solicitors




Do you remember why you first chose to study at Durham?

Durham had a course that interested me and I was attracted to the collegiate structure and the beauty and compactness of the city. Having spent many years living and studying in the south of England, there was also something very appealing about moving to a city in the north.

Can you share any of your Durham memories, where you studied, including the people, friends and academics?

From treading the boards as an eccentric medium in the freshers’ play to graduating in the Cathedral and shaking hands with the University Chancellor, Bill Bryson, I have clear memories from throughout my time at Durham of lecturers, college staff and friends – they all played important roles in my university life and in helping to shape the person I am today.

What was the biggest influence on you when you studied at Durham ?

Studying sociology for the first time taught me to question constructs I had previously taken for granted and given little thought to. Those studies helped me to think analytically and to challenge assumptions; essential skills for a solicitor.

How did your time at Durham university help guide you on your career path?

As part of my degree I studied Spanish, which included a year living and studying in southern Spain. I left university fluent in Spanish and my language skills helped me into my first paralegal role, setting my career path in motion.

What aspects of your law degree have proved to be the most useful in your career so far?

I have two elder siblings: my brother studied law at university and my sister studied languages. We discussed the benefits of being able to communicate in different languages and the fact I could convert to law after university, and so I decided that's what I would do. As a result, my legal studies started after I graduated, but the subjects I studied as part of my degree have been instrumental in directing decisions I have made about my career.

What attracted you to a career in Law?

I was attracted to law by the idea that I would be helping people to solve problems. Later I refined what was important to me, which translates to advising people who need help to exercise their rights or to defend themselves.

Tell us about your career so far.

To begin with I thought I wanted to be a city lawyer but found, from studying the subjects on the LPC, that my heart wasn’t in it. I realised it was important to me to help those who needed it most and I wanted my work to promote access to justice for all. The other revelation I had during my two years at law school, was that I really missed speaking Spanish. When I saw a role advertised for a Spanish-speaking paralegal at a social welfare law firm in London – I had a eureka moment. I later went on to train at the firm and had a very interesting and instructive time there.

Can you share any details about your time working at Leigh Day Solicitors?

When I qualified as a solicitor, LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) was very much on the horizon and the already very difficult job of a social welfare solicitor was set to get even more difficult with further, significant cuts to Legal Aid. When I saw the job advertised for a solicitor in Leigh Day’s “Colombia team”, which was a team in the firm’s international department that was working on corporate accountability cases based in Colombia, I felt as if it was meant to be and I joined the firm as a newly-qualified, Spanish-speaking solicitor in December 2012. In April 2015 I was seconded to an internal team working on a regulatory matter the firm was responding to and, in September 2018, I set up Leigh Day’s regulatory and disciplinary team with two colleagues, where I continue to work.

Any other career stories to share?

One of my more unusual career stories comes from my first few months at Leigh Day, when I travelled to northern Colombia with my supervising Partner to interview paramilitaries in prison. Arriving at the prison and having to wait outside whilst the guards dealt with a riot, being ushered in with a group of nuns and then interviewing and interpreting the testimonies of three inmates whilst sat at plastic garden furniture, was a surreal experience that I am unlikely to forget any time soon.

What successes/achievements have you had in your career so far?

In my first year of practice I formed part of the team working on an appeal to the Supreme Court. We represented two soldiers who had been injured and the wife of another who had been killed by friendly fire in Iraq. The Supreme Court held that the Ministry of Defence owed a duty of care to properly equip and train soldiers, to prevent friendly fire. The decision was an important recognition for our clients and it was also significant in terms of legal precedent.

Between 2015 and 2018 I worked as part of the in-house team dealing with an investigation and then defending a prosecution of Leigh Day and some of its lawyers by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. None of the allegations were proved in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and we successfully defended an appeal of that decision. Building on that experience, we decided to launch a service for external clients and I continue to work as part of a team dedicated to helping professionals deal with regulatory matters, including compliance queries, responding to regulators and defending allegations and prosecutions.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career to date?

To me, the biggest challenge of the job is dealing with defeats (and I can think of a couple in particular). Some are bigger than others and require greater negotiation with your beliefs and behaviours. That can be hard because it requires you to be objective with yourself, but I think it is essential if you want to develop as a professional and as a person.

What advice would you like to share for those interested in sharing a similar career path?

There are easier jobs than a career in law, but it can be an extremely rewarding vocation. Consider carefully what motivates you, to help direct your path, and be curious and courageous.

Related Links

Contact details and more information about the cases Emma has worked on can be found here.

 






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