|5:30 a.m. Vancouver Canada, dawn is breaking and Blair Lockhart is ready to talk to SOAS students via Skype! We would really like to thank her for her willingness to get up extra early to take part in our (UK) lunchtime session. A lawyer with the British Columbia Securities Commission, Blair shared her experiences of SOAS and her career to date, with a small group of students, all interested in environmental law.
Crime to mines
The desire to travel more outside of North America, an interest in Africa and a wish to do a postgraduate qualification led Blair to SOAS. She left her job as a criminal prosecutor in Canada to undertake an LLM. Keen to use these studies in international natural resources and environmental law in her future career, she joined a clean technology start up within a short while of her return home, and from there moved to a mineral exploration company. Her current role as a Securities Lawyer with the Securities Commission is a mixture of regulatory and mining advisory work as well as policy development.
Making the most of your time at SOAS
When Blair and her husband arrived from Canada to undertake their postgraduate studies, they were determined not to return home saying that ‘I wish I had done….’ They therefore made the most of what London had to offer, attending talks, concerts, museums and exploring the capital. She urged current students to try to get as much as possible out of the experience living and studying in London. Time at SOAS also provides an ideal opportunity to get involved in extra curricular activities. These might be interests which you enjoy but might not get the opportunity to do after graduation and/or those which could add to your CV and develop skills.
The value of volunteering
SOAS provides lots of opportunities to volunteer and continuing to do this after graduation can also have an impact. Whether related to your career or not, Blair stressed the benefits of getting involved. Law Societies and other professional associations often have opportunities to offer your services on a pro bono basis and this provides a very good way of developing skills as well as establishing useful networks. Devoting time to causes that resonate with you outside of your professional life can also be valuable. Blair herself is President of CISV Canada, a volunteer, non profit international peace education organisation for youth.
Making an impact in your first job
Joining an organisation as a recent graduate can be daunting but ask questions, offer your opinion and get involved. There will obviously be lots to learn in a new environment but you have a great deal to contribute as well. You probably have some of the most up to date knowledge within your subject area coming straight from university so see this as a positive!
‘Counsel with a conscience’
Lawyers are often asked to make tough decisions. There may be times when you are asked to do things that you are not comfortable with. Take time to think things through, follow your conscience, seek advice if this is available, don’t take decisions lightly and above all, be prepared to take responsibility for your actions. Your reputation is something you’ll spend a career establishing, but it can quickly tarnish through one bad decision.
The role of the lawyer is to uphold the law and not necessarily to promote a cause and Blair encouraged students to reflect on the employment settings in which they might be most effective. Whilst working with an NGO on environmental issues is one career option, advising a commercial organisation and ensuring that they act appropriately can also have a great impact. Pressures from shareholders and from communities are having significant positive influence on the environmental and social issues which organisations need to address. In addition, the growing field of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) within companies could offer additional options to graduates interested in tackling some of these challenges.
In response to a question about the ease of movement between NGOs and the commercial sector, Blair commented that these transitions will probably be much more common in the future. Developing good networks which you can use to inform yourself about trends and development in different areas can help lay the foundations for a successful career move.
Whatever you decide to do in the future, it is very probable that 5 to 10 years down the line, you may be somewhere that you never dreamt of! Being flexible and willing to make the most of opportunities as they arrive can help you develop and enjoy your career.