My route from Law degree to charity sector

Photograph of School of Law Alumni Jess Edwards standing outside the Moot Court
Jess Edwards
Global External Affairs and Advocacy Manager
Save the Children International
Jess studied both her LLB Law at Undergraduate level, and her LLM in International Law and Global Justice at Postgraduate level at the School of Law. She visited the School of Law recently to speak as part of our 'Careers in Criminal Justice and Human Rights' event. 

Whilst Jess visited the school to talk to our current students, we asked her a few questions to find out more about her time in Sheffield, what she's done since, and her plans for the future...

Photograph of School of Law Alumni Jess Edwards standing outside the Moot Court
Feeling nostalgic! Alumni Jess Edwards standing outside the School of Law's Moot Court

What first attracted you to the University of Sheffield?

I really liked the city - I’m from Hull which isn’t that far away, so I knew Sheffield a little bit - and then when I was in sixth form we came here on a School trip. I hadn’t really considered Sheffield before that but I really liked it - all the green space, the university, the course. Just got a good vibe from the uni, and I liked the city - that was why I wanted to stay for my master’s as well! It’s a big city but because of where the uni accommodation is, and where you tend to live in your second and third year is compared to the uni, it feels like quite a small city.

What does your role as global external affairs and advocacy manager involve?

My team is responsible for influencing governments and other decision makers, as well as the public, about different issues relating to children’s rights. That could be on anything from education, through to children living in poverty, topics relating to climate, health and nutrition, as well as conflict settings. It’s a broad range. In my current role I am responsible for our advocacy towards different non-traditional decision makers globally, so looking at development banks like World Bank, IMF, Asian development bank, those institutions. I also look at the private sector and the role they can play in influencing governments as well, and the role that they should play as actors themselves in terms of self-regulation.

I also look at processes like the G20, the G7, and how that can impact our advocacy. It’s quite a cross-thematic role - it’s not really focused on one specific area, but rather it looks at the advocacy towards all of those institutions.

School of Law Alumni Jess Edwards speaking at our criminal justice careers event

What first inspired you to pursue a role in the charity sector, and in global campaigns in particular?

It was an area I did discover an interest in whilst I was doing my law degree - I found international law and human rights law quite interesting, so I wanted to continue pursuing that. Also, I liked the idea of not working for a big corporate - I liked the idea of working for a cause. That definitely inspired it, and then as well coming to this point where I was thinking about how the law can achieve things in a different way - corporate law or whatever else - just generally using my law degree in a different way.

Do you have something that you would describe as the highlight of your career so far?

I think the strategic litigation piece that I’ve worked on is really interesting, because it’s meant that I’ve been directly using my law degree for the work that Save the Children does. It’s involved investigating how Save the Children can support different legal cases within whatever sector, and at whatever level - whether it’s regional, national or global courts. That’s something that I find really interesting, and it’s been nice to have that more legal element to it but still creating change for children in a different way.

How did you develop the skills required for your job during your time at Sheffield?

I think in terms of actual subject knowledge, for me that meant making particular module choices that were more relevant to the fields I was interested in - so international law and international human rights law. The same applied for my masters as well.

In terms of skills, so many of the skills I learnt at uni I still use now. Whether that’s written communication, which you obviously develop through essays or dissertations anyway, but I think alongside that building on it with some of the experiences I undertook alongside my studies. That included working on a legal news website, called the legal loop, as well as oral communication. I got involved in mooting, which really helped with my public speaking skills. 

I also volunteered for a charity called the Snowdrop Project as a case worker, which was really beneficial for showing me what the charity sector did, and within that because it was quite a small charity at the time I got the opportunity to work with people from different teams.

Speaking to different lecturers also helped massively - the human rights and international law lecturers that taught me were really helpful in this area. 

Have you encountered any unexpected challenges in your role?

I think because I did my Masters, my experience has involved quite an academic look at law, but really seeing how it’s applied in principle and because my role looks not only at law but also at the politics of these decisions, and in reality what actually happens - it does really put things into perspective. It makes you realise that things are not always exactly as you learn about, there are so many other influencing factors. I think especially in relation to international law, it’s just impossible to actually apply it and actually make states abide by it. It’s looking at how in practice law can be applied and through the different ways people can be held to account - and that’s not always going to happen through court systems. 

It’s also made me realise the different rules that apply in convincing states - it’s not just a case of, ‘it’s your legal obligation!’. In a lot of contexts, if there’s a change in national law, that doesn’t really mean anything… for example, in the context of child marriage - just because we get the law changed to 18, it doesn’t mean in practice that people are only getting married above the age of 18. Essentially, the law can only do so much - there’s a lot of other layers to it in regards to changing how people act and how people perceive things. From doing a degree and thinking ‘this is it’, and then realising the realities and the limits of law. 

How would you describe your future career goals?

I’m very interested in staying in the charity sector - sometimes I think about taking more of a legal route, so for example strategic litigation does really interest me. Other charities have more of a legal advocacy department so in those cases it would become your only focus. I do think about taking that route, but mainly I do just want to stay in the sector. Sometimes I do also think about doing a PhD! 

Due to the fact I was quite fortunate in that I got this job straight out of uni, I’ve been at Save the Children for quite a while now but I’ve still got quite a lot of my career ahead of me, so that’s really good.

What attracted you to Save the Children as an organisation?

I think I just liked that it was such an international organisation. Although it specifically focuses on children’s rights, that links into everything. We work on so many different issues, I really like being in the international office rather than being part of a specific member because I like having that broader outlook. I find it really interesting working with people from all over the world, and the broader thinking needed compared to work just within the UK. I think I was drawn to international NGOs generally for those reasons, and then that was just a component of that at Save the Children.

What piece of advice would you give to yourself at a younger age?

I think if I was talking to myself at a younger age I would just say, don’t feel pressured to do what everybody else is doing! You don’t have to be a solicitor or a barrister if you don’t want to, that is not a failure - I’ve still got a good career from not going down that route. It is important to trust yourself and not feel that pressure. 

I think I would also just say ‘have more belief in your skills!’ - So many people see a job advertised and they’ll immediately see boxes they don’t tick. I think especially women find themselves doing this - when you’re starting out just apply for stuff! If you don’t get an interview, no one is going to think less of you. Have more belief in yourself, but don’t put pressure on yourself either.

What is the one thing during your time at Sheffield that you would say has helped you the most with your current role?

My Masters and my Law module choices really helped. Those gave me an area that I wanted to focus on in terms of my career, as I felt like I had to become a solicitor as I thought it was the only route available to me, so that really helped and gave me skills and knowledge for my career. I would also say a lot of the different opportunities that I got involved in, even being in societies, or just making new friends, you do get a lot of different skills from it. Don’t feel like you always have to be doing what everyone else is doing.

What are your best memories of your time at Sheffield?

I miss Sheffield so much! I even miss PopTarts - the only thing I don’t miss is the hills, but I did have strong calves when I lived here! I think my best memories are just of all of the friends I’ve made and still have are up here, the flatmates that I met in first year - we’re all still really good friends - there’s ten of us that are still really close. I made so many friends on my law degree as well. I really love the city, and the university, I just miss everything!