As part of one of the Law Review’s projects this year we are undertaking written interviews with various law graduates to showcase the variety of career paths available to law students.
For the second edition of this series, we have Alex Ewing, who graduated from Glasgow LLB in May with a first class degree. Since leaving the university, he has gone onto work in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg over the summer, before being offered to stay on for a further 3 months until December, working in the Directorate General Human Rights.
Do you mind explaining a bit about your academic history?
In first and second year, I did the compulsory courses like everyone else doing the LLB course at Glasgow. It wasn’t until third year that I began to really enjoy and engage with modules I wanted to do. Being able to pick subjects I was interested in for third and fourth year made a big difference, and I took part in the Comparative Law Project and the Human Rights Project.
What do these two projects involve?
The Comparative Law Project involves a trip to Mainz, Germany to learn about German law and work with the students there. The end goal is to produce a comparative report with a German partner and present your findings when the German group visit Glasgow the following semester.
The Human Rights Project is a self-taught fourth year course. Ten students take part: one group represents the applicant bringing a case to the European Court of Human Rights and the other group represents the responding government. In February, you have the chance to present your case at the Supreme Court in London (we were lucky/unlucky enough to have Lady Hale, Lord Reed and Lord Hodge asking us questions) and in March you go to Strasbourg to present your case at the European Court of Human Rights. This is followed by peer assessment where you analyse and grade your group’s performance throughout the year. It was challenging and time consuming but an unbelievable experience.
What is it that got you engaged with human rights initially?
I had been interested in public law and human rights from quite an early stage, but you definitely don’t need to be. The interesting thing about human rights cases is that they cover a wide range of subject-matters: family issues, property issues, religion, prisons etc. The chances are that there will be something in it for you.
Did you do human rights in your undergraduate dissertation?
In the third year human rights class we had learned about the Council of Europe’s anti torture committee – the CPT. The Committee visits places throughout Europe where people are detained, such as police stations and prisons, checking for signs of ill-treatment and making recommendations for improvements in the treatment of these people. I found this concept quite fascinating and different from the idea of law I had in my head from first year and so I chose to focus on it for my dissertation.
What sort of work are you doing at the Council of Europe at the moment?
The most famous institution of the Council of Europe is the Court, but there are many other institutions and departments. I am working in the Directorate General Human Rights and the Rule of Law. Part of the Directorate’s job is to ensure that the judgments of the Court are actually implemented in practice. There are also over 200 other Council of Europe treaties with standards that need to be monitored and implemented and new standards need to be developed all the time – for example there has been a recent focus on artificial intelligence.
How do you find working in Strasbourg generally as a city?
Working in Strasbourg has been very enjoyable. It is not the biggest city and you get to know it quite quickly. It is famous for its Cathedral, Petite France, Christmas market and tarte flambes – and it is generally a pleasant place to live.
Do you need to be a qualified lawyer to work at the Council?
There are some positions in the Court that are only for qualified lawyers. Outside of that, there are a range of jobs with people from all backgrounds, legal and otherwise.
How much French is used at the court? Do you need to be able to speak it?
I haven’t studied French since school. I am picking it up again as I go along, but most people at the Council speak English and you can get by on basic French.
Where do you see your career going in the future?
I would like to continue to work in public law and human rights and can’t see myself doing anything different. But who knows? I don’t have any long term plans and I’m happy to be working in Strasbourg just now.