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Alumni of the month – November 2014

Alison McKenna
LLB Bachelor of Laws, 1987

Robert Humphreys

Alison McKenna was the first person in her family to study at university and since graduating from LSBU, she has led a diverse legal career and risen to the top of the profession. She was recently appointed President of the War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber and, as a member of the Judges' Council Diversity Steering Group, has worked hard to promote greater diversity in the judiciary.
When she enrolled on the LLB Bachelor of Laws, Alison was already working as a Solicitor’s clerk. It was the practical nature of the course that attracted her to study at LSBU, as opposed to a traditionally academic law course. The chance to develop her legal skills by undertaking supervised work at the innovative Law Centre instilled a practical approach to studying. This hands-on experience proved invaluable as it has underpinned her professional values to date: “I have been a strong supporter of pro bono legal advice work since I worked at the Law Centre in the third year of my degree at South Bank. It’s a fantastic way for students to develop the skills they will need in practice and I firmly believe that getting involved in free legal advice work helped me in my career goals.”
Alison was also a keen participant in Student Union activities and many of her friendships were forged through her involvement in student politics: “The Students’ Union was twinned with a pit in South Wales during the UK miners’ strike. We had some fantastic weekends going down to South Wales with our food collections, drinking and playing bingo in the Miners' Welfare Club and then sitting up late debating politics with the miners.”
She has held a variety of roles within the not-for-profit sector including in-house Lawyer for the Charity Commission and a Judge adjudicating on appeals brought by charities against the Charity Commission: “I have seen the relationship between charities and their regulator from both sides! I am endlessly fascinated by the way charities think up new ways of addressing social problems. They can identify need and respond quickly due to their independence from Government and closeness to their beneficiaries.” Her passion and expertise within the sector resulted in her appointment as the first President of the newly created Charity Tribunal in 2008: “It was such an honour to be the first salaried judge to hold that role and to think about how significant the creation of a Charity Tribunal might prove for charities.”
In October 2014, a report by the Council of Europe revealed that women make up only 25% of judges in England and Wales. As one of the country’s few female judges, can more be done around diversity in the judiciary? “Yes! We are making progress but it’s been late coming and very slow. There have been a number of recent diversity initiatives by the judiciary to encourage a more diverse range of people to consider becoming a judge themselves. I am a firm believer that the judiciary should be representative of the society it serves.”
Judge McKenna recommends that students remain flexible and open-minded when entering the legal world: “Don't stress about thinking you need to follow any particular career path. It’s great if you find the role and the area of law that really interests you, but don't worry if it’s not clear. It took me about 10 years of practice to discover charity law and to realise that was what I wanted to specialise in. I never thought that would lead to me become a full-time judge, but I took the opportunity when it came my way.”  
Do you need legal advice? The University's on-campus Legal Advice Clinic (LAC) is a free legal advice drop-in service that's open to the public and staffed by LSBU law students working under the supervision of practicing solicitors.