Politics and law from a hotel room

David Henderson (LLM Qualifying Law Degree, 2020) describes what led him to study law out of personal interest, alongside a busy international career in communications.

“If you want something done, ask a busy person” aptly summarises David’s studies at Birkbeck for the LLM Qualifying Law Degree. He was already thriving in his career as a Partner at a communications firm when he decided to take on the course in 2017. David would watch recordings of lectures in hotel rooms in the evening, while advising his multinational clients on managing crises during the day. Despite this causing his place on the course to be jeopardised at various points, David graduated in 2020 with a Distinction.

He was inspired to pursue the course by his partner who works in the legal profession. David posits that, if he’d had studied law 25 years ago, he might have become a lawyer himself. However, as a crisis management specialist, David used to find himself in rooms with lawyers whose legal analysis often led them, for good reason, to advise their clients to “say nothing, admit nothing and do nothing to reduce any improper suggestion of wrongdoing.” In considering reputational risks, his role often used to compel him to advise the exact opposite. Now with the LLM under his belt, David feels better positioned to work with his legal colleagues.

After completing his studies, David was asked to set up and run the corporate affairs function of a FTSE 100 company – his third non-political job since serving as the Prime Minister’s Head of Research & Information between 2007 and 2012. David’s political career began in Melbourne, Victoria, where he served as President of the National Union of Students. After “treading the path of many NUS presidents to become a special adviser to a minister”, David put in a speculative application to HM Treasury to work as a Principal Private Secretary. David describes the journey thereafter modestly as “a series of lucky breaks.”

David’s political background allowed him to appreciate the Birkbeck School of Law’s critical approach to legal inquiry. He particularly enjoyed constitutional law, as well as being taught about indigenous land rights – which, as an Australian, “was interesting to experience in a London lecture hall.” However, having previously advised both Gordon Brown and David Cameron on legislative challenges, David was well equipped to navigate the tension and overlap between public opinion and the courts.

“…being in the Capital where law is assessed and centuries of arguments and debates have taken place is incredibly interesting and inspiring.”

Reflecting on his classmates, David noted that whereas he was studying for personal interest, “everyone I studied with wanted to be a lawyer”. He was impressed by the socioeconomic diversity and diversity of opinion within his seminars, and sees this as reflective of London life, describing it as “the most interesting, international, cosmopolitan city in the world.” David adds: “When one is studying law and its history, being in the Capital where law is assessed, judgments are issued and centuries of arguments and debates have taken place is incredibly interesting and inspiring.”

Asked to summarise Birkbeck in three words, David responded: “Political, philosophical, and intelligent.”