School of Law

Margaret Backhouse

LLB Law | 1996-2002

Photo of Margaret Backhouse

What motivated you to apply to study your chosen course and why did you chose Leeds?

In 1996, I took an early voluntary retirement package from BT when I was 49. I had worked for them in a variety of roles for 33 years. One of my roles was customer contract negotiation which involved drafting contracts for big telecoms projects which were then checked by the BT legal team. This sparked my interest in the law (that and the fact that it did not involve maths!).

49 is too early to retire fully and when I saw an ad for the University of Leeds which, for the first time, was doing a part time LLB, over six years, I applied. I feel very fortunate to have been accepted by Leeds. Having insufficient qualifications, I had to sit a small exam which involved writing an essay on a point of law which I did at the Office Of Part Time Education. Even though I am now retired, the law background is useful in many ways in everyday life and in the voluntary work I do for Guide Dogs.

How would you describe your experience at the University and what elements would you describe as the most enjoyable?

No-one in my family had gone on to further education or even been to grammar school and arriving at the steps of Lyddon Terrace on the first day was terrifying. I definitely felt like Rita in Educating Rita, with my 5 GCE O Levels and not even an A Level to my name. But of the fifteen part timers who started that day, most were mature students with similar qualifications.

I loved Prof Horton Rodgers office which, to me, was everything a University Professor’s office should be: piled to the rafters with books and a desk you couldn't see for papers. The Law Library and the Brotherton were my second home for six years. I couldn't spend enough time in there. I had a very positive experience at the University and made many friends, some of whom I am still in touch with today.

What did you think of your course? How has this helped in your chosen career?

The course was excellent although, since I was only doing it for interest, it did not help with my career which was all but over by then. However, it has made me a much better negotiator and winner of pub arguments!

How would you describe the help and guidance given by the staff within the School?

Being mature students, I think we were treated slightly differently. The staff there tried their best to accommodate us by fitting in lectures and seminars with our working lives. My retirement was short-lived and, six months into the course, I went back to work at BT for another fifteen years, meaning that I now had to work full time and find a way to attend daytime lectures and seminars.

Fortunately, BT were very flexible and accommodating. I would take a taxi up to Lyddon Terrace for a seminar or lecture and then back to work in the centre of Leeds to make up the time. My evenings and weekends were generally spent in the Law Library or taken up with essay writing. It was hard work sometimes meeting work and essay deadlines and I often had to do some University work at lunchtimes instead of eating! I have to say also that I sometimes did a bit of sneaky essay writing when I should have been working!

How would you describe the facilities at the University?

The facilities are excellent and have improved even further since I was there. We always felt a bit like the forgotten army in Lyddon Terrace in the cramped common room and small library but I was invited to see the new Business School and School of Law a couple of years ago which were impressive.

What would you say about Leeds as a city?

I have always lived in Leeds so I know how great it, and the people, are.

Please tell us about your development since graduating from the university and how do you think your time at Leeds has helped with this?

I am now a volunteer for Guide Dogs in Leeds, working as their local press and publicity officer, which was one of the roles I did at BT. My ‘job’ is to get as much positive publicity for Guide Dogs as possible. I interview Guide Dog owners and puppy walkers, write press releases and do interviews on TV and radio and with local MPs and Councillors.

My last interview was with shadow chancellor Ed Balls in April just before he lost his seat! Obviously the time at Leeds (and BT) has given me confidence to do this and the ability to ask the right questions. I also write a local newsletter/magazine three times a year which goes out to all Guide Dog owners and volunteers.

Please tell us about your current role/research. What are your plans for the future?

I intend to carry on volunteering for Guide Dogs - a wonderful charity who need every penny they can get to train those amazing dogs. I do miss academia though.

What would be your top tips in terms of careers advice for current students?

Choose a career that uses your degree but most of all chose something that you love doing. That way it will never feel like a job as you will be doing something you enjoy.

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