This week at Behind the Scenes at BLS we talk with Fiona de Londras on how being a part of BLS challenges her settled understandings of the law and brings fresh questions and insights into her research.
In one way or another I always wanted to be a lawyer. When I was very little, I aspired to be like Perry Mason, largely because he seemed to be very good at winning cases, and drove a Lincoln Continental. By eight or nine I was obsessed with going to law school, which I was sure was going to be just like The Paper Chase. As you have gathered, my very early interest in being a lawyer all revolved around television, largely because I didn’t know any lawyers apart from the ones I met on the screen. When I was ten Mary Robinson became President of Ireland (where I grew up) and I had my first real-life lawyer to aspire to.
Apart from a blip in my early days of law school (when I thought I might become a corporate lawyer), I never really wavered from my interest in public law and constitutionalism. Even now, eighteen years since I taught my first class (giving tutorials was part of the deal for a tuition scholarship for my Master’s), I am still broadly interested in the same core questions. What (if anything) can law do to help us understand, design, and pursue effective policy solutions to complex questions? What (if anything) is special or useful about law? How (if at all) does law shape state and supra-state responses to hard questions?
My work now mostly pursues those questions in two fields: counter-terrorism and the regulation of abortion. I am very lucky in Birmingham to have so many colleagues who are interested in these fields as well, and whose questions and curiosities help me to sharpen up my thinking and refine my ideas. Our students, too, never fail in challenging my settled understandings of the law and bringing fresh questions and insights to my thinking. In many ways, what makes Birmingham such an enriching place to work (and, I think, to study) is exactly that atmosphere of open curiosity and collective enquiry that I find in seminars, reading groups, supervisions, and—when the pandemic allows—classrooms and corridor conversations.
Over the years I have become more cautious in my faith in the law and in institutions to pursue and secure ‘just’ approaches to the governance challenges that we face. Ultimately, the effects of the law depend not only on its content but on the context in which it is shaped, implemented, and applied; the working of the law depends on structures and people. If we want to work to make the world fairer and more just, then we need to attend to those structures, seek to dismantle them where they cause injustice (as they so often to), and try to do our work with integrity and humility. This is true whether we’re defending the accused in criminal trials like Perry Mason, reflecting on the (endless) reading for seminars like in The Paper Chase, bringing legal insight to global leadership like Mary Robinson, resolving large-scale contractual conflicts like the corporate lawyer I never became, or problematising existing approaches to complex governance challenges like the academic that I did.