Sarah’s experience on our UK Summer School programme in Oxford back in 2003 really helped her confirm her interest in chemistry, which eventually helped her choose a unique degree course of Chemistry with Law. Now a successful Partner at Covington & Burling LLP, we spoke to Sarah about her journey from that week on our programme, to where she is today.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I grew up in Staffordshire, near Burton-on-Trent. My parents didn’t go to university, but my brother and sister did, and I think I always had the intention to go to university despite my parents not having that experience. My brother studied in the US and was sort of my university role model as I was growing up.

What led you to apply for the Sutton Trust programme? 

“I was a first-generation student at a state school and in hindsight I think my school was particularly bad – it wasn’tvery strong academically, and less than 50% of pupils got 5 A*-C at GCSE. But at the beginning of my A level year my school was giving out some Sutton Trust leaflets and I applied to the Chemistry programme at Oxford. 

I didn’t know much about university before I went on the Sutton Trust programme, and it gave me a great insight into how the day-to-day university experience works. I generally kept quiet at school and didn’t want to speak up too much, so it was a joy to take part in the Sutton Trust programme and meet others who were very academically capable. I loved being in Oxford and exploring the city, and I’ve stayed in touch with some of the people I met on the programme (one actually went on to study at Bristol like me).

On reflection it was a really great scheme for me to do at that time of life, and to have the chance to really think about university and what was involved. The programme reinforced my interest in Chemistry and confirmed to me that I didn’t want to do a straight Law degree, as I got to meet and interact with lots of scientists on the programme which I really enjoyed. There was a bursary at the time as well and that was really helpful. I’m now a graduate recruitment partner at my law firm – we’re very hot on social mobility, and because of the opportunity I had with the Sutton Trust I’m very passionate about this.”

How has your career developed after the programme? 

“I applied to the University of Bristol and got a place studying for a Chemistry & Law degree. This was quite a unique degree programme: it was 2 years of Chemistry followed by 2 years of Law. I got a First, which I was very proud of. It was a great degree to get me into law firm interviews post-university as I had both the science and the legal side, so I had quite a unique skill set.Iwas lucky enough to get a job at the end of my third year at university, which paid for my LPC (Legal Practice Course). I’d originally thought about doing patent law work, but then I stumbled across my firm Covington & Burling at a lawfair andI did their vacation scheme for a week. I was fascinated by their work in the Life Sciences industry, as it offered a chance to combine my science and legal background.  I then applied for and got the training contract. I’ve been at Covington for my whole career and my practice is very niche, working in Life Sciences law. In a nutshell, the Life Sciences team, that I am a part of, advises pharmaceutical, medical deviceand medicaltechnology companies on regulations that apply to their products in Europe and in the UK; how to commercialise those products; and how to stay compliant with applicable laws.  I have particular expertise in advising on legal issues presented by digital health technologies. 

The thing I particularly like is that the area of law I advise on is changing constantly – regulations change to adapt to the world around us.  With Covid, in particular,we have seen that people are being more creative about the digital products that they offer in the healthcare space. We often see products that we’ve been involved with feature in the news and that’s really exciting.”

What are you ambitions for the future? 

“I’m very happy with where I am currently so I’d like to continue working at my firm and growing our reputation in the Digital Health and Life Sciences space. I want to continue learning and working on interesting areas. Young lawyers often have a pre-conceived idea of what area they want to work on – I’d say keep an open mind about the exact area that you want to pursue. Take all the opportunities you can to experience different people, different clients, different workstreams etc. to find what your strengths are and what you’re interested in.”

Every story we collect from our alumni as part of our 25th celebrations, helps inspire the next generation of students to aim for careers they might never have thought of. If you, like Sarah, want to share your story with us – just get in touch with the alumni team via [email protected].