I was born and raised in Nottingham, went to University in Oxford and then Yale Law School. I started my academic career at Nottingham University, then moved to Cambridge, and in 2007, moved (back) to Oxford, where I’ve been ever since. I’m married to Becca Williams, also in the Faculty of Law here; we actually met while we were both in Cambridge. We have three children, now aged 11, 8, and 2. During the lockdown period, we spent six months diversifying into being primary school teachers and nursery care providers. The feedback from my children is that I need to work on my ELI5.
What led you to a career in academia?
I come from a very science-oriented family. My brother and I grew up playing on the very beautiful campus at Nottingham University, where my father was a Professor of Applied Mathematics, and we both gravitated towards maths and science A levels. I chose to break from this by reading Law, because I decided I wanted a professional rather than an academic career. This turned out to be a very poorly-informed view! As I progressed through my undergrad studies, I found myself drawn more and more into academic debates. My tutors John Eekelaar, Sue Bright and Dan Prentice were particularly influential in helping me to see the excitement associated with the academic study of law. Conversely, a summer spent working on vacation placements made me realise that the practice of law—at least how the experience was configured for junior lawyers in those days—was not for me.
When I went to do postgrad study in the US, I was introduced to the economic analysis of law. This struck a powerful chord with me. Over time I’ve come to realise that my family background in science has influenced me a great deal, and that this is why I’ve found myself drawn to social scientific approaches to the subject. This has since broadened into empirical research, and most recently, in the application of computer science methods to law.
Why did you take on the role of Associate Dean for Graduate Studies (Research) and what do you want to achieve in the role?
Over the time I’ve been in the Faculty, I’ve supervised and examined a lot of research students and developed an appreciation for the challenges of their journey. I wanted to continue to make a contribution to Faculty life, and it seemed to me that Associate Dean for Research Students would be a good opportunity to do this. In particular, I was keen to seek to develop the range of research methods provision offered by the Law Faculty, which we did with the introduction in the 2019-20 academic year of a suite of PGR Research Elective courses to complement the core Course in Legal Research Methods. I’ve also been working to streamline the way we handle admissions, which is an incredibly complex process for us all as a Faculty. The current unanticipated challenge is of course how to ensure that our students are adequately supported during the very difficult circumstances imposed on us all by the pandemic. High on the future agenda is the development of further funding opportunities for our PGR students, ideally through combining these with opportunities for teaching.
What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time?
I most enjoy spending time with my family, and taking part in a wide range of outdoors activities – so my very favourite is doing outdoors things with my family! We go walking, camping and even swimming (outdoors) together when we can. I used to ride regularly with local cycling club Velo Club Jericho, but since our son was born I’ve struggled to find time. I hope to persuade my children to come cycling more often; at present it’s a struggle even to get them to ride to school!
Do you have any pets?
Not at the moment, but my daughters have been lobbying hard for this to change. At one point they were pushing strongly for a dog, but then they got a brother! We have now agreed in principle that we will get hamsters later this year, so watch this space…
What charity do you support and why?
I support the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Amongst other things, I rode the Fred Whitton Challenge, a gruelling 113-mile cycle ride over all the high passes in the Lake District, in support of them. My brother was born with CF, a genetic condition that causes an excess build-up of mucus in the lungs and digestive system. Although the disease cast a long shadow right from his birth, he is the most resilient and inspirational person I know. In 1997 he underwent transformational surgery from a pioneering team at Addenbrookes and Papworth Hospitals in Cambridge. He has since enjoyed a stellar career as a theoretical physicist.