Rose Edwards is currently a research assistant at the Law Commission working on the Commercial and Common Law team. Just before Christmas Jade-Amanda Laporte (City alumni) had the chance to interview her about what it was like working in this role and exactly why applying to be a research assistant should be at the top of any aspiring lawyer’s to-do list. The deadline for this year’s applications is 31st January 2024. Here’s Jade-Amanda’s account…
*All views reflect those of Rose Edwards not those of the Law Commission.
I am not sure entirely what I expected when I visited the Law Commission for the first time, but it certainly was not the relaxed, friendly atmosphere that I was met with when I arrived.
The Law Commission lives at the Ministry of Justice, just a stone’s throw from St James’s Park tube station and as I left the station and walked up to the very grey concrete building, I felt sure that I was about to embark on Heathrow-Airport-level security control, mixed with the business formality of an investment bank. Instead, a simple check-in at the desk and collection of my visitor’s pass sufficed. I met a casually-dressed amicable Rose beside the in-house coffee shop in the communal meeting area.
About Rose: her journey to the Law Commission…
Starting right at the beginning, I was curious to get to know a little about Rose’s career path that led her to the Law Commission:
What did you study at A-Level?
Government & Politics, Geography, Biology, Maths AS
Law Undergraduate at Oxford.
Did you do a Master’s?
BCL at Oxford
Where did you study the Bar Course?
City, University of London
What other activities were you involved with at university?
- Chairman of Oxford’s student-led pro bono legal clinic – Oxford Legal assistance
- Associate editor of the Undergraduate Law Journal
- Researcher for the Bonavero Institute on police use of force
- On the committee for the Oxford Women in Law Student Society
What are your career aspirations?
To be a Barrister, I start pupillage next year.
How did you find out about the Law Commission?
Whilst I was working on essays at university, I would often read the Law Commission’s reports. They were an invaluable resource for my research and when I browsed their website, I saw the opportunity to apply to be a research assistant and knew that was something I wanted to apply for in future.
About the Law Commission
Next, I was curious to know about the seemingly very relaxed atmosphere that I found myself in. I am sure if you are reading this, you have probably come across the work of the Law Commission in some capacity, but just in case you haven’t, they are a statutory independent body set up to make suggestions to Parliament to reform, repeal, codify, or consolidate the laws in England and Wales. You can find out more about what the Law Commission does via their website. I asked Rose some more questions to learn a little more detail about the Commission itself:
Who works at the Law Commission and how is it structured?
There are four teams:
- the Commercial and Common Law team, where I currently work;
- the Property, Family, and Trusts team;
- the Criminal Law team; and
- the Public Law team.
The leader of each team is called a ‘Commissioner’. The Commissioner at the head of my team is Professor Sarah Green. The Commissioner is supported by a team of qualified lawyers and a number of research assistants. There are four research assistants on my team but there are more on the bigger teams such as Property, Family, and Trusts.
Each of these Commissioners reports to the Chair of the Commission who is usually a senior lawyer and a judge. At the moment, this is Sir Peter Fraser who was appointed on 1 December 2023.
What project are you working on at the moment?
I am working on the “Digital Assets project” a project considering reform to the area where private international law meets international tech-related disputes, for example cases that might involve crypto-assets such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs and electronic trade documents. You can read more about this on the project page. This is a project I specified that I would like to work on in my application to the Law Commission.
I was lucky enough to be allocated the project I chose, as this is not always the case. But it is a good idea, when you apply, to look at the Law Commission’s website and see what projects are in progress as you are likely to be allocated to one of these if your application is successful and you might wish to specify any that are of particular interest to you.
Other projects in my team that are being worked on at the moment are a project about DAOs – decentralised autonomous organisations, a project just beginning on reviewing co-operatives and friendly societies, and getting an arbitration bill put through Parliament which was included in this year’s King’s Speech.
What does your typical day look like?
As you might expect, most of my day is made up of research on a particular issue I have been assigned to look into for my project, which I will then usually have to write up in a Research note. I might also be editing chapters for our call for evidence (the document that we’re preparing for publication on my project), or assisting in preparations for meeting with a stakeholder.
In terms of timings and location for my day, I usually come in early and work in the office because that’s how I work best. However, I should say that there’s a flexible work arrangement so someone else doing my job could do the same work, but have a day that looks a bit different. As long as you are online for our core hours between 10am and 2pm, you can (subject to business need and discussions with your managers) work your contractual hours at the times that suit you and only have to be in the office in person three days a week. The flexibility of the job really helps people to make the most of it in their individual circumstances – for example, if they’re applying for pupillages or vacation schemes alongside their job. We are also given 5 learning and development days for education or training (in addition to annual leave), which are really useful for pupillage interviews or mini pupillages.
What is your favourite thing about working at the Law Commission?
My favourite thing has got to be the atmosphere working here. Everyone is so friendly and encouraging as well as being very good at what they do and extremely dedicated to law reform. It’s an inspiring environment to work in. Everyone here is supportive about your individual careers and ambitions as well as always being available for a chat whenever you have a question about anything at all. We sit at open desks, so it’s an approachable environment.
What is your least favourite thing about working at the Law Commission?
This is a tough question, as I really have nothing negative to say about working for the Law Commission; it’s a great place to work and I really enjoy it. If I have to say one thing it would be that I am acutely aware just how impactful the work is. The magnitude of that can be overwhelming but it is also exhilarating, and everyone’s dedication to producing the best analysis of the current law and most impactful proposals for reform iswhat makes this such a special place to work.
By this point in our conversation, I was ready for her to take my name and sign me up! If only it was that simple! As you might imagine, applying to the Law Commission is an exceptionally competitive process, so I asked Rose some more questions and was very keen to take notes on any helpful tips and advice she had to offer me and any other law students wanting to apply:
Who can apply for the role of Research Assistant?
The short answer is anyone with two years’ full time legal studies with a passion for law reform. Do have a look at the specific requirements mentioned on the Law Commission website which you can find more about on the Research Assistants website.
- You must have completed a course or courses involving two years’ full-time substantive legal studies or the equivalent in part-time studies.
- You must have first class or good 2.1 standard undergraduate degree. If you do not satisfy the minimum academic requirements on the basis of your undergraduate degree, you can demonstrate the academic standard through one or more of the following completed qualifications:
- A GDL (or CPE) at distinction, or at commendation with at least one mark at distinction and substantial additional skills and knowledge.
- A completed Masters degree in law (LLM, BCL, MA or M Phil) at 2:1 (Merit) or above.
- A completed PhD in law
You must also be able to demonstrate our essential behaviour, ability, experience, and technical skills.
I’d also like to add that the Law Commission really is a role for anyone of any age and any background. Another thing I love about working here is the real mix of people I have met from a wide array of previous careers, universities, and with a wealth of different life experiences; there really is no one particular kind of candidate they are looking for. The Law Commission is so committed to this that there is a very specific way that you must format your CV: it’s completely name-blind and should not include any personal information such as your name, date of birth, or contact information.
How do you apply for a role?
Applications are now open, and you can find out about the 2024 vacancies in the four teams on the Research Assistant section of the Law Commission website. The application process is made using the MOJ Recruitment Portal system. The first stage consists of a paper application and a situational judgment test. The second stage consists of , a written test, and an interview. I believe that the application closing date will be 31 January, but do check the website when applications go live!
We held a virtual presentation/webinar on 6 December 2023. Happily, this was recorded, and is available via the Law Commission YouTube channel.
What was your personal experience of the application process like?
Throughout the whole application process, but particularly the written application and the interview, I relied a lot on the guide for applicants. For the initial application make sure you first read the “guide for applicants” which is published every year and follow everything it says to the letter. Take a look at the current 2023 guide.
The first stage was a written application and situational judgment test.
The written application asked specific questions which tried to obtain information about whether I possessed particular skills.. There were questions about communicating and influencing, legal research, legal skills, and motivation. I found it helpful to match the things stated on my CV with each of these skills before I started writing my application to better help frame my answers. The guide tells you what they want to see you demonstrate.
I also had to take the situational judgment test which is a standard test used for all civil service positions. Find out more about this test.
The second stage, which is prompted by being selected for interview, consisted of a written test and an interview. I was able to select when to sit the written test within a period, which minimised the stress of the test. I think I had 6 hours to read a case and then answer questions about it in written form, including a question about law reform. Do not worry about this as no prior knowledge about the case or the Law Commission is necessary. The interview then followed a particular civil service interview format. Information about this format was contained in the guide for applications, which really helped me to focus my preparations.
What do you think stood out about your experience that the Law Commission would have liked?
I think all experience is valid experience, but I was careful to present my experience in a way that demonstrated the qualities they told me they were looking for. So, when trying to show my communication skills, I used examples from my legal experiences but I also spoke about my time working in a pub.
I also made sure I used my time on the written test to write clearly. Law Commission reports are written very accessibly so it’s important to demonstrate that skill. I was able to do that because of prior experience (e.g. editing undergrad law journal, working for a barrister). Further, working for a barrister for a year meant I had lots of research experience – but don’t be put off by that! Formal employment as a researcher definitely isn’t necessary, and I think that research assistants often rely on things like their dissertation experience to demonstrate their research skills.
What would be your top 3 tips/advice for any prospective applicants?
- Check the deadline and give yourself time!!!
- READ and RE-READ the Law Commission Guide. It’s there to help you for a reason. There is also something called ‘The Success Profiles’ framework which is a system developed by the UK Civil Service to assess candidates for job roles. This was introduced in 2018 to replace the previous Civil Service competency framework and will be invaluable to your application.
- Research the prospective team that you are interested in and the projects they’re working on. Make sure you’re genuinely interested in their areas of work.
Is there anything else/anywhere else that we can go to look for information?
A huge thank you to Amelia Rose Edwards for her taking the time to answer my questions and to Emily Allbon for introducing us. By reading this article you have already taken the first step in applying by learning about the application! Time to get a mince pie, coffee, and start writing that application: don’t just learn about the law; be a part of making it.
Thanks also to our interviewer Jade-Amanda. She studied the LLB at City before studying the Bar course at ICCA and being called to the Bar by The Inner Temple in October 2023. She is currently finishing her LLM in Information Technology Law at the University of Edinburgh