Russell Sandberg is a Professor of Law at Cardiff University, we recently caught up with Russell who kindly shared with us an insight into his average day as a professor of law and advice for those looking to pursue a legal career.
Why did you choose to pursue a legal career?
Thinking back, I am not sure why I wanted to study law! I definitely wanted to go to university in that it seemed the natural progression but also a massive step into the big city from my small close-knit valley community.
I suppose I was drawn to a law degree because law was seen as a ‘good’ solid subject and also because it was something I could study alongside Sociology which I had enjoyed studying at A Level. I realised that I was most engaged whenever we studied something that had a real life dimension. I never really understood the periodic table or trigonometry because they never really appeared on the TV or in everyday life!
So, on reflection, I think studying law appealed because it involved studying real life: both in terms of the big issues of the day that appeared on the news animating the public discussion but also in terms of its impact on everyday life, the way in which law regulates every transaction and the key events in life in terms of family relationships, employment and so much more.
I also knew quite early on that I didn’t want to go into practice, however. As the degree progressed, I found myself increasingly absorbed in legal research and much less keen on applying the law found in textbooks to abstract problem questions. I particularly enjoyed modules on Legal History and on Law and Religion – and writing my undergraduate dissertation on the legal status of the civil service.
I loved the research: the finding out of new things, chasing footnote references, making links. And I also really enjoyed the writing process: playing with words, trying to express things succinctly but accurately, presenting things in a new way, making new connections.
These experiences made it obvious what the next step would be – and thanks to generous financial support from Cardiff Law School.
I began work on my PhD, which combined the two halves of my undergraduate degree – law and sociology – to explore the development of the new field of Law and Religion and how it compared with the Sociology of Religion. And I haven’t stopped since!
Towards the end of the PhD, I was fortunate enough to obtain a lectureship in the Law School and following that over the years got promoted to Senior Lecturer, Reader and now Professor.
There has never been any grand plan in place. I have simply researched what I have found interesting and written things that I would like to read. In some respects, nothing has changed at all.
If I look at what I am currently working on, it is clear to see echoes of my undergraduate degree interests.
Give us an overview of what you do on an average day?
There’s no such thing as an average day. I am currently on a year’s study leave and so my day is completely shaped by what I am writing about on that day. Not just when I am at the keyboard typing away but it’s on my mind constantly. I’ll often have the key idea – the thought that usually rips up what I’m currently doing – when I am not at my desk.
It usually comes when I’m in the shower or watching TV in the evenings. In the old days, I used to rush around to find a piece of paper to scribble the idea down on. Now, I just make a note on my phone. Sometimes, the note is then actioned the next time I am at my desk but on other occasions, I have realised that it is a stupid idea by then!
In terms of writing days, there is no fixed routine. It depends on what I am writing – mostly, how apprehensive I am of getting started! There’s usually a fair bit of procrastination before I start but once I start I’m OK. I then get up and walk to the kitchen whenever I get stuck.
Usually the solution has presented itself by the time I have put the kettle on and then it’s a mad dash back to the study! I can’t work in the evenings or at night. My brain stops functioning by around 6.00pm 6.30pm if I am lucky. And so the computer is turned off by then before I start writing nonsense or deleting the good bits!
When I’m not on study leave, there are days when I am teaching. These typically require an earlier start: an early morning train commute to the university provides me with the opportunity to brief myself about what I am teaching that day, to re-read notes or PowerPoint slides that I have prepared in advance.
In between the teaching, I tend to do admin or finding materials for research or teaching. I can’t write while I am in the office at the University. I can only do that at home. I need silence and my particular desk!
There are lots of other parts of the job too. As you would imagine, there are lots of emails – not only from within the university but also relating to my roles elsewhere – so to do with the book series that I edit, for instance. There are also invitations to speak at or write for certain things and requests to read pieces that others have written.
Social media is also an important component: it’s an easy way of keeping up with developments and also sharing your research. Like anything else, it’s a test of time management, trying to work out how much time each task deserves. I suppose I am helped in that respect by my brain turning to mush in the evenings!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a law professor?
I think my first response would be to ask what their motive was. If they were passionate and constantly fascinated about research and writing – and dedicated to education and enlightening future generations helping them to understand and question the law, then I would know that they were suited to being a legal academic.
“…think big and to grab the opportunities that arise.”
In that case, they probably wouldn’t need my advice but if they asked, I’d tell them the importance of self-discipline, knowing how much time and energy to devote to each task. I’d also say to think big and to grab the opportunities that arise. Always follow your gut and be ambitious in the sense of trying to get stuff published in the places where it’s likely to be most read.
I would also stress the importance of drawing a line between you and your work and, most importantly, of trying to be thoughtful and kind. It’s so easy not to be – to be so wrapped up in your own work that you forget others exist – and it’s something that I do not always achieve. But it’s so important.