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Alumni profiles

We are proud to have a vibrant and international alumni community with our students going on to have extremely diverse careers in a wide variety of industries. Hearing from our alumni always reinforces just how versatile a background in law can be.

Here you will find interviews with some of our alumni about their experiences at the Edinburgh Law School and beyond.

We’re always happy to hear from our past students. If you would like to have your profile featured here please do get in touch at law.alumni@ed.ac.uk.

Jacquelyn Maclennan
You are an alumnus of the University of Edinburgh – a world leading institution, in a city synonymous with the values of the enlightenment. Your degree is a door opener. It can take you anywhere. Be proud of that.
Jacquelyn MacLennan
LLB, 1983

Tell us about your time at university?

I began university in 1979, and during that first week, I met some of my best friends to this day. The law faculty was a welcoming place and a manageable size. I always felt fortunate compared to others doing less “collegiate” degrees. I loved the old lecture halls, and the stimulation of some of the classes – Neil McCormick’s lectures shine in my memory, and Bill Wilson’s dry humour was an indelible influence. I never learned to love the coffee in Chambers Street café but the company overcame that!

What are some of your favourite memories of university?

I’ll always remember the experience of walking through the tunnel into Old College to read my final results on the Notice Board and the feeling of seeing my name there.

The most notable experience has to be meeting my husband. We sealed our relationship when we followed up an announcement at the University Settlement from Margaret Blackwood, a courageous, incredible woman with muscular dystrophy, who was looking for a couple to accompany her on a camping holiday to France and Italy. While it was it was tough at times, we had a wonderful summer holiday with her and we started on a journey together.

What did you do after graduating?

I am currently a partner in an international law firm of 2,000 lawyers, White & Case. I have been in Brussels for more than 25 years, specialising in anti trust law, with an additional focus on questions of trade and environmental law.

I did my training to qualify as a Scottish solicitor at Shepherd & Wedderburn, an excellent and far-sighted Edinburgh firm, and then went to work in the Legal Service of the European Commission, before moving into private practice.

My career path has a direct trajectory from the classes I took in my degree – including European law and international economic law – and I still find these areas fascinating. I used to run the Brussels office of the firm, which I enjoyed hugely, and for the last three years I’ve been a member of my firm’s executive committee, which determines its strategy and management.

I’m privileged to work with lawyers in almost 30 different countries, with different issues and challenges. However, the legal world almost everywhere is marked by significant under-representation by women in senior leadership positions (I am 25% of the four person committee) and one of my aims is to encourage more women to stay in the profession and achieve success there.

What have been some of your proudest moments since graduating?

One of my proudest achievements is to be an Honorary Fellow of the Europa Institute, and to give lectures there on an annual basis.

Another is to have taken part in the memorable Tercentenary celebrations of the law faculty over a wonderful weekend, meeting so many different people with so many different accomplishments all linked by their experiences in Old College over the years.

If you could offer one piece of advice to current students what would it be?

You are an alumni of the University of Edinburgh – a world beating institution, in a city synonymous with the values of the enlightenment. Your degree is a door opener. It can take you anywhere you want to go. Be proud of that. Be confident that you can do whatever you want to do. And be true to yourself while you’re doing that.

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Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born in Edinburgh originally but moved away when I was quite young. I came back here to do the masters and it has been a great way to reconnect with my home city. I previously studied law as my undergraduate and then took a gap year from education to earn some money and get some experience. I then decided that I wanted to do a masters.

What made you choose to study law at Edinburgh? And specifically the LLM in Global Environment and Climate Change Law?

I chose to study the Global Environment and Climate Change Law LL.M at Edinburgh University because the quality of the programme and the staff seemed exceptional when compared to other environmental courses. Not many universities offered the LL.M option which I also found attractive.

I chose the LL.M in Global Environment and Climate Change Law specifically because I had done law as my undergraduate and didn’t really enjoy the course. I have a huge passion for the environment and climate change issues, so I thought why not further my legal knowledge in an area that I love. I found international law far more complex, challenging and interesting. Plus, it is a field that is rapidly developing so it stays interesting and there is always more to learn.

What are your enduring memories of your time here?

Aside from the course itself, the people. I chose to do my masters over two years. So I was lucky enough to experience two sets of like-minded students. I had a great time and I have made some amazing friends.

I also feel like the staff really inspired me in a way that I didn’t get with my undergraduate. Their passion and expertise makes a huge difference in the quality of the teaching and the experience as a student.

How did your time at the Edinburgh Law School prepare you for your career?

Being around like-minded people from all over the world really inspired me to move away from Edinburgh to gain some practical experience. I moved to Germany to complete two internships which set me up with some great experience, knowledge and contacts in the industry.

What do you enjoy most about your career?

I love that I am getting to work with international environmental law directly. I am currently working on a legislation project for the United Nations Environment Programme. Although it is currently only a short-term project I am excited to see what is going to come along next! Studying environmental and climate change law is a versitile interdisciplinary subject and can be applied to many different career paths.

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Why did you choose the Edinburgh Law School for your LLB and LLM?

After graduating from undergrad at Colorado Mesa University, I knew I wanted to study in the United Kingdom. In 2007, I took a trip to Great Britain to scout universities and to attend a wedding in Edinburgh. A group of students at the wedding showed me around the university and the city and I instantly fell in love with Edinburgh. I had been considering a couple of English universities outside of London, but ultimately the University of Edinburgh was the only institution I applied to, as I knew that is where I wanted to study. I liked the international reputation of the University of Edinburgh, the feel of Old College, and the charm of the city.

My path in law and politics has been fairly non-traditional, as I earned my LLM prior to earning my LLB. Originally, I had planned on only one degree from Edinburgh University, but wanted to continue my time in Scotland and my pursuit of law. Being accepted into the LLB program allowed me to stay and to read law. The three and a half years I spent in Edinburgh were the best and I think fondly of my uni days. Upon returning to the US, I earned an American law degree from the University of New Hampshire. While I never practiced law in the UK, the foundation in law is incredibly valuable.

What are some of your memories of your time at the Law School? How did your experience differ between LLB and LLM?

I recall spending hours and hours reading in Old College and the Main Library. The friendships and adventures with friends are what really come to mind. Often a group of us would have a pint or two at the Advocate, Doctors, or Brass Monkey, often continuing the conversation begun in our tutorials or seminars. Being an international student, I tried to share my culture from the US. One Thanksgiving, I attempted to buy a turkey and after many failures, a meat shop was able to specially order one; the only problem was my oven was too small! A friend helped out and we had an epic meal. We had many dinners at each other’s flats on the weekends and it was an experience of a lifetime to get to make friends from around the globe.

The LLB was pretty intense. There were a lot of cases and law to memorize. I tended to have a lot more Scottish and English and friends from the Commonwealth during the LLB, as opposed to the LLM where the majority of my classmates were from all over the world.

Another memory which stands out was watching Iain Macwhirter installed as rector. As luck would have it I ended up being invited to a reception and visiting with then-Chancellor HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. To this day, it is still surreal to recall that conversation.

The LLM and LLB complimented each other. The LLM was more research-based and academic in terms of pondering great ideas. The LLB was all about getting through a ton of information and being able to talk on the subjects during tutorials. One night in 2008, I had been studying late in the graduate computer lab in Old College. I walked out the door near the South Bridge entrance only to realize the gate was closed and locked. At that time there wasn’t a swipe lock and I couldn’t get back inside the school to properly exit on Chambers Street. I ended up calling the police and having to explain I was locked inside Old College, but outside. It was quite embarrassing, but the story has garnered many laughs over the years.

Especially during the summer and autumn, I played lots of tennis at the Meadows. Friends and I would play doubles; sometimes singles when the weather was good, then we’d rushed back inside to study when the weather changed. On the topic of sports, a group of us law students rode our bikes one weekend to Berwick-upon-Tweed. It didn’t take long to realize my three speed bike was a single speed, as I was coasting down a hill I hit a stone and went flying off my bike. This was my experience seeing the local A&E. The doctor and nurse patched me up and we were off to the borders. The day felt like journey of monumental proportions. I will never forget my last bike ride in Edinburgh. I rode up to Calton Hill and looked out over the city – there will always be a big place in my heart for Edinburgh.

How do you think your studies at the Law School helped you get to the Colorado House of Representatives?

Studying law at Edinburgh has been a tremendous asset as a member of the Colorado House of Representatives. Edinburgh taught me how to think and a different way of studying than is typical in the United States. The rich, deep history of seeing how law developed in Rome and how it was received in Scotland have proven useful as legal debates are recycled from one generation to the next; each having to justify keeping or expanding a rule.

As a legislator, I have used old law text books as a resource; even though the laws may be different, the legal concepts are valuable to use during debates and to see if there is a better way to word a bill or amendment.

What inspired you to go into politics?

Public service, not politics is what inspired me to enter the realm of elective office. It is an awesome responsibility to represent a constituency and to know you are advocating on behalf of your friends, neighbors, and folks you see around town. My family is not political, so when I convinced my parents to listen to Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole deliver a tarmac speech 24 hours prior to the polls closing in 1996, they knew my course in life might be non-traditional.

I have always believed in fighting for the underdog and the less privileged and the political arena is where my talents shine. From being student-body president in high school to serving on my college’s board of trustees and later to serving on town council, I have found success in being a leader and making a positive impact for my community. It is that success which has continued to fuel my interest in politics.

What are you most hoping to achieve in your role as a representative?

My biggest hope for this legislative session is criminal justice reform, more specifically bail reform. I am the prime sponsor of legislation that seeks to end cash bail for low level petty offences. These are offences that typically bond between $50 and $250.

Courts across America are holding wealth based detention to be unconstitutional as a violation of the equal protection clause of the constitution. Other cases have considered wealth based detention to violate the 8th Amendment (excessive bail shall not be required) and British-American sacrosanct doctrine of innocent until proven guilty.

Sitting in jail because a person cannot pay a $100 is coercing them to plead guilty to get out of jail. These cases are things like illegal u-turns, loitering, smoking in public, parking violations etc. This bill will save jail space for dangerous offenders.

Another aspect of bail reform is the implementation of pre-trial services, which allows an accused to be release on a personal recognizance bond. These services can vary from merely agreeing to conditions of release to monitoring the subject. The cost to the taxpayers for pre-trial services is a fraction of what it costs to detain an individual in jail prior to trial. I am working on a bill to fund pre-trial services to move Colorado away from being a wealth based detention state to a risk assessment state.

Criminal justice reform is a major issue and bail and pretrial services are only the beginning. I would not be leading the charge but for the influence from my education at the University of Edinburgh School of Law.

Tell us about your time at the University

I owe a great deal to the University of Edinburgh. It provided me with a rigorous and stimulating education, as rewarding as it was demanding. It gave me the skills and just as crucially the confidence to take my career in interesting directions and it exposed me to ideas that challenged me and opened my mind. I will be eternally grateful to the University and in particular to the School of Law for giving me that opportunity.

Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University

Since leaving the University of Edinburgh, I have pursued volunteer work in Sri Lanka and work in Georgia, Alabama and New York working on Death Penalty defence and access to justice issues. I have also worked in the legal profession in Scotland.

I completed an LLM at Harvard Law School and was fortunate to have been awarded a Kennedy Memorial Trust Award and I am extremely proud to represent the Scottish legal profession in this respect.

At Harvard University, I was admitted to the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic: a remarkable institution that has provided me with firsthand experience under the close supervision of the clinic's expert human rights practitioners, and in collaboration with leading international and local human rights organizations.

I am an Editor and member of the Article Selection Board for both the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review and the Harvard Human Rights Journal. In addition, I am a member of the Harvard Law School Moot Court Board and I have been working directly with two Professors at Harvard University, providing research assistance in Equality law and American Legal History.

In this respect, I have been extremely fortunate to obtain direct exposure to Faculty whose views continue to challenge the boundaries of their respective areas of the law. In working with academics of the highest calibre, I have been fortunate to meet leaders in the field whose thinking has truly influenced my own.

At the University of Edinburgh graduation ceremony in 2011 the incredible Olivia Giles gave a truly inspiring speech to the graduating students. She told us to make sure that we follow our dreams and that we never lose sight of them. I can safely say that my time at the University of Edinburgh has led me to pursue an enriching career and I will be forever thankful to the School of Law.

Alumni wisdom

Never be dissuaded by routes that appear to be too difficult or too challenging to undertake. Accepting new challenges can lead to exciting career paths and to the discovery of unexplored passions.

As students from the University of Edinburgh, there is no question that you will be presented with many excellent career opportunities. However, to echo the words of Olivia Giles, remember to take note of your own personal ambitions and seek to pursue them, even if they may appear to be unobtainable at first glance.

Tell us about your time at the University

I had a great time at university studying the LL.B (Law and Business).  At first, I wasn't sure if I'd picked the right subjects as the first two years of my joint honours degree were quite challenging.  The topics didn't really capture my interest, but I appreciated that they were essential to the degree.  My final two years, however, were fantastic - I loved being able to specialise in subjects of my choice. I focused on commercial law, which synchronised well with my interest in business. 

Managing a joint degree was not easy.  In my fourth and final year I balanced five honours subjects, whilst those studying ‘straight law’ only had two subjects and a dissertation.  Despite having a heavier workload I'm really glad I took the joint honours degree and it’s something I would recommend to incoming students.  I gained a valuable insight into how law and business interact in practice; the 'commercial awareness' that most law students don't acquire until they start training.  Law is actually a very small part of a firm's commercial operations (unless it’s a law firm!).  Although vital, law is more of a support function, in that it's not a profit centre for a business. Legal action always has to be considered in proportion to its cost/benefit weighting, which some lawyers tend to forget! A joint honours degree can give you a broader perspective and employers do value that.  

Alongside the academics I found plenty of time to get involved in societies at university.  As President of the Entrepreneurial Society, I led a team of creative thinkers to victory in the University Business Plan Competition.  I also set up a business called 'Ed Exchange', an online platform for students to sell things to each other, books, furniture,...anything really. It was essentially an early version of Gumtree, but solely for Edinburgh students.  The service was free with James Thin the Bookshop, now Blackwells, kindly sponsoring the venture. It was the first of its kind at the University and was featured in the student newspaper.  Hundreds of students used the service and I still feel really proud of that.  

Leaving university was a sad yet exciting experience.  I graduated with first class honours (a result that still surprises me!), and I finished my studies with a burning desire to put what I'd learned into practice.  However, I still feel like part of the Law School in my capacity as tutor on the Contract and Delict (Ordinary) courses, a brilliant opportunity which I would encourage any law graduate to seize.

Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University

Since university, I've held a number of exciting positions in the banking industry.  This all started with a successful application to join Accenture, a leading management consulting firm with a global client base.  I specialised in financial services and spent most of my time in London and Manchester, with the occasional trip to Chicago.  However, the opportunity to work at Accenture began in Edinburgh.  Accenture attend the Edinburgh University milkround each year to select candidates for their coveted internship programme.  Despite tough competition from OxBridge applicants, Edinburgh students seem to perform well at the assessment days and, in my year, a healthy proportion of the places went to us. My internship led to a full-time position, after completing my degree.  

The experience I gained at Accenture was invaluable; the work was cutting-edge and innovative. However, after three and a half years of constant travelling (sometimes 4 flights a week!), I decided it was time for a break from all that.

The experience I gained at Accenture led to an opportunity at Richard Branson's new bank, Virgin Money, headquartered in Edinburgh. A relatively small bank at the time, Virgin Money has since grown to become a major force in the UK retail banking industry. The bank merged with Northern Rock in early 2012 and I was fortunate enough to work on that transaction. It was one of the most significant M&A deals to happen that year and I feel privileged to have been involved in it, working alongside some of the sharpest minds in the industry.

Eighteen months on from then, I'm now working in the CEO’s office at the bank. We’re fortunate to have an inspirational CEO who is passionate about changing the banking industry for the better and genuinely making ‘everyone better off’ in doing so. I’m learning lots about how a business works in practice, and it's amazing to see the mechanics of how a bank functions.

My time at Virgin Money has been an incredible experience so far, and my girlfriend is a lucky beneficiary, getting a hug from Sir Richard himself when he last paid us a visit!

Alumni wisdom

Don't make plans: make options. Opportunities will come your way which can't possibly be planned. Sticking to a preconceived vision of your life may hold you back. In my third year at university, I seized the chance to work for Accenture with both hands. At the time, nobody had a clue who Accenture were and what they did, and everyone thought I was bonkers! Yet without that opportunity I would never have joined Virgin Money and been in the position to help shape the future of the banking industry. What is more,  I would never have been offered the opportunity to camp in Richard Branson's back garden!

The unpredictability of life makes it exciting. Rejecting change is dangerous, because it will happen without you anyway and you'll be left behind. If you're passionate about changing the world, go out there and make it happen. Adventure; explore; take risks; have fun and never, ever give up.

Christine Nikander

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I completed the LL.M. in Global Environment and Climate Change Law in 2016-2017. Prior to that, I had studied public international law at Leiden University in the Netherlands and for the past two years I have been working at a large law firm in Amsterdam.

How did you come to study law?

My mother is German and my father is Finnish. I would say that my interest in law — particularly in comparative, EU/European and international law — stems from my intercultural family background and also from moving around. Prior to moving to Edinburgh, I lived in Germany, the USA, Finland and the Netherlands. I would say that growing up I was always really curious about the relationships between different states and their citizens, and also the way that different countries take different approaches to dealing with or regulating various issues. At some point in my teenage years, I then started to wonder what could be done to tackle cross-border or global issues, given that individual governments only really seemed to deal with issues inside their own borders. That is what brought me to study international law.

What made you choose to study law at Edinburgh?

I am from a family that is strongly oriented towards technology, environmental science, and economics. I came to want to study environmental law because I wanted to combine my studies in law with science and economics. I choose to study in Edinburgh because the Law School offers a really good course in environmental law. At the time, Professor Alan Boyle was still teaching at the Law School and I think I just knew that there was a lot to be learned from him, which also turned out to be true.

A lot of my coursemates had followed the traditional path of completing an LL.B. prior to starting the LL.M., but there were also quite a few people who had a BSc/MSc and even some who had a background more in politics and international relations. Environmental law is an interdisciplinary field and I think the diverse academic backgrounds of my coursemates contributed a lot to the in-class discussions and to what I learned during the course. Apart from the course itself, I also knew that the University of Edinburgh has quite an international student body and a very lively "student culture", and that was something I was looking for too.

What are your enduring memories of your time here?

It is a hard question to answer because I had a wonderful year in Edinburgh and at the Law School, and I have a lot of fond memories from that time. I think if I have to limit myself to three things, they would be the following:

  1. I find Scottish people really warm-hearted and kind, so I have a lot of good memories of just having wonderful conversations with people both in- and outside of the Law School.
  2. During my time in Edinburgh, I was a member of the University boat club. I was a complete novice to the sport at the start and first learned how to row in Edinburgh. I have a lot of fond memories related to rowing and spending time with people from the club. That love for the sport is something that I took with me from my time in Edinburgh and I still row regularly today.
  3. I feel like in Edinburgh on the campus, and especially in the library, there is a really strong “we are in this together” vibe during the weeks right before and during exams or when larger assignments are due. This can be with your coursemates or even with someone you have never spoken to (but that you have been sitting in the library with for the past few hours), and there is something really reassuring about that.

How did your time at the Edinburgh Law School prepare you for your career?

I think one of the things you learn at Edinburgh Law School, perhaps more so than at a lot of other law schools, is to write and bring legal arguments in a very concise manner. This is due to the quite short word counts that you are allocated for your essays, papers and dissertation, despite having to cover quite a lot of ground contentwise. Completing an LL.M. at Edinburgh Law School not only trains you in identifying the various legal arguments you could bring and how to formulate those exceptionally clearly, but it also really teaches you how to weigh the different (potential) arguments up against one another to then prioritize the arguments so you can make your case in a concise manner. You learn how to be very focused in your reasoning and in your use of language. I think learning to be this clear and concise in your argumentation is a good starting point for any legal career, and it is something I still get positive feedback on from my colleagues now.

It might not sound the most positive, but I honestly also think the quiet steep peaks in workload that you have at the Law School at the end of each semester also prepare you well for your legal career. I am sometimes asked by colleagues why relatively speaking I stay so calm during the busy/stressful periods close to larger filing/hearing dates, and I think it has to do with the having been exposed to and learning how to cope with quite heavy workloads during my time in Edinburgh.

What do you enjoy most about your career?

I work at a large law firm in Amsterdam and what I enjoy most is getting to work on quite complex and cross-boundary matters, with people who are really passionate about what they do. I also really enjoy getting to combine my knowledge of the law and of science on some of the intellectual property cases or larger arbitrations I have gotten to work on.