Where can studying an LLM take you?

Emily Littlehales was one of our Global LLM Bursary winners 2016. Now she has completed her LLM in International Law & International Relations at the University of Bristol we decided to catch up with her and find about her LLM experience and what she is doing now.

Last week I attended my first ever graduation ceremony (I’d missed my undergraduate one at the University of Bristol due to working at a summer camp in Canada). It felt even more special because as well as achieving Distinction in my degree, I’d won an award for overall ‘Best Performance’ in my LLM pathway. Somehow – with no legal background – I had come top of my year, and I was full of gratitude and surprise. And as I posed for a formal photo with my peers and our Head of School who had presented us our awards, I laughed at how entirely surreal the moment felt. I beamed with pride at my peers who had done all of this, too. The long days in the library and hours spent producing quality work were all entirely worth it for the places our LLM studies had already taken us. Friends came to graduation from jobs in places like Cambodia and Malawi. Just a year earlier, we had been sat in that same building, listening intently to lecturers teach us about this whole new world of international law as we tried to absorb every piece of information they were sharing. And there we were on graduation day, wearing our long gowns like at Hogwarts, receiving prizes and applause for our accomplishment.

Earlier that day, I was one of hundreds of excited students sat in our University’s Great Hall as we awaited our moment to walk up on stage when each of our names were called. I formed part of this hopeful young adult collective, full of potential and anticipation for a prosperous future where we’ll change the world somehow. Far more nervous than I’d expected to be (and probably because I was wearing heels), my hands shook as I walked across the stage towards prestigious professors in fancy robes and funny-looking hats. To the supportive and celebratory cheers of my family and friends, I proudly collected my LLM certificate, wholeheartedly thankful for all the year had taught me.

Since finishing my LLM, I have been working in The Gambia for the university here. My main assignment is to create their first international legal journal, which looks a bit like networking with all sorts of legal academics and practitioners in the country, and a lot like editing in an air-conditioned office. The other (and my favourite) part of this role has been writing speeches for esteemed people who present them to the President of The Gambia and his government – almost as if I get to speak right to him about human rights and transitional justice. This year-long opportunity was made possible through the Human Rights Implementation Centre at the University of Bristol, and because I became a team leader for their clinic during my LLM. It’s one example of how far and wide an application for postgraduate study can take you. I went from working full-time at a café near my parents’ house to writing Editor’s notes for a law review and speeches to a President.

More than anything, the whole LLM process taught each of us so much about ourselves. It taught us to work together and share whatever we were learning – to push for our whole class to achieve the best marks possible. It forced us to be kind and patient, to commit to hard work for the sake of the doors that’ll open for our futures. I am learning to be intentional, creatively strategic and active in whatever shape my career will take. But my most fond memories of my LLM will continue to be all those times we sat in the bar opposite our library laughing at how much we didn’t understand yet, and having picnics on the grass to soak up precious sunshine during our LLM dissertation phase, and discussing group projects in otherwise silent study areas. I am grateful for my LLM experience and would recommend it to anyone for where it’ll take you, what it’ll teach you, and who it’ll introduce you to – especially yourself.

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