Alumni of the Month September 2007

Carol Ronan-Heath (1993 French/German & Law)

1. How did you get to where you are now?

aom_Carol Ronan Heath In seat 1A of an Emirates’ aircraft (don’t ask me which one) on a one-way flight from Gatwick to Dubai, UAE on 29 June.  No seriously, through sheer determination.  I graduated from Keele with a Joint BA (Hons) in Law with French and German in 1993, lived and worked in London for 4 years during which I did the LPC (solicitor’s professional exams) and worked in logistics/contract management for a Saudi petrochemical company and Enron (yes, Enron).  Decided quickly that I did not like Enron and so I left with nowhere to go – very liberating!  Shortly after that I went to Geneva on a temporary contract to work as a French speaking administration assistant at CERN (Centre for European Particle Physics Research - the home of the world wide web in case you are wondering) on what I thought would be a year abroad.  The year turned into five with time spent working at UN World Health Organisation for the essential drugs program and then ended with almost three years in IATA’s legal department (International Air Transport Association) which is where my interest in aviation law was born.  I then decided to push to qualify as a solicitor and joined the Aviation Group at DLA (now DLA Piper UK LLP) in London thanks to a senior partner there and then left to complete my training contract at a (then) newly set up niche aerospace practice – Gates and Partners - which continues to go from strength to strength thanks to Mr Gates and his “phenomenon” (i.e. the team!).  I was approached by an industry friend to apply for a post as Legal Adviser to Emirates Group in February which led to an interview in Dubai shortly thereafter and a position as Legal Adviser which started on 1 July.   

2. What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Very difficult to say, but it has to be one of these:

1.  Qualifying as a solicitor (it took me 10 years due to my 7 year detour via Geneva and London) thanks to Gates and Partners
2.  Running the London marathon in 1997 and again in 2003 (post-divorce)
3.  Passing out from Navy training for RNR with the Commodore’s Prize presented by a Rear- Admiral at HMS Raleigh at the end of a gruelling two week basic training course in November 1996 (well, I thought it was hard going, I know the full-time Navy will disagree)
4.  Meeting and marrying Mark Anderson (husband no.2) who I met via a Keele friend, Ala Kuzmicki

3. And your biggest mistake?

Hard to say as everything seems to be coming together now and things I thought were mistakes are actually proving to be valuable experiences.  I think I regret not going straight into the officer training programme for the Royal Navy post-Keele because I loved the RNR and was too old (at 26!) to continue into officer training by the time I passed out from HMS Raleigh.  After rethinking though, I do not think I would have wanted to be part of a fighting machine so I would have been doing it for the wrong reasons anyway.  

4. What are your ambitions now?

Ambitions today are to:

  1. Enjoy my new position at Emirates, I can already see that there’s a huge potential to learn more about the aviation industry as the Middle East comes into a period of regional growth generally and particularly for the aviation sector.  By the way, I disagree with theories about aviation being the biggest culprit for global warming… look at sea tankers!
  2. Finish my masters in Air & Space law (Leiden University, Holland) which I have started but had to put on hold due to work / moving to Dubai this year.  Due for completion in September 2009.
  3. Make the most of my new life with Mark (when he finally arrives…. His office opens in Dubai in September) in Dubai and of course the opportunity to travel around the region, India and Asia.  I also want to learn Arabic and gain a better understanding for Middle Eastern culture.  
  4. Spend more time with my sister (currently in Geneva) and my parents (retired to Bulgaria) now that I can forget about chargeable hours in private practice in London and have double the amount of annual leave!

5. What made you choose Keele University?

The fact that I could study Law and languages at the same time plus the beautiful surroundings.  It felt like a real university because it was on its own campus. 

6. How has Keele influenced your life?

I met people at Keele that I am still very close friends with now at home and abroad (via Erasmus).  I learnt a lot and grew a lot as a person.  Also, being able to speak French and German has opened so many doors for me generally.  I worked in Geneva thanks to my French and am now fluent. 

7. What is your favourite memory of Keele?

The last day of law finals, I ran through the main concourse waving my bag and my books around with my (still) best friend Ala Kuzmicki and we danced and jumped around.  Graduation day was excellent too but sad in a way as we were all going off to do different things.  My Erasmus year abroad was a great experience too split between Amiens and Frankfurt, the Law/French/German students from Keele met lots of other students from Holland, Belgium, Germany and France.  Again – we’re still all in touch! 

8. And your worst?

I cannot think of anything really bad.  But maybe the first day, fresh from school in Yorkshire I arrived at Keele with my mum!  So I spent most of the day with her and then when I returned to my hall everyone had gone and I felt like “billy no mates” but that soon got better. 

9. What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?

There is no avoiding it - in order to work in my field (aviation law) you need a keen interest in aviation (possibly coupled with a masters or some kind of past industry experience i.e. airline work, insurance work, regulatory/governmental work) and good solid academics.  I have been very lucky to end up where I am in a field I find so interesting and have done it by working slowly towards my ultimate goal (which was to work as a lawyer for an international airline) and meeting some very helpful professionals along the way.  To obtain a training contract in any City firm (which is pretty much the only place in UK for aviation), the minimum requirements tend to be upper 2nd class honours degrees from good universities plus good A-level and LPC results.  Languages are very useful especially if you have proven fluency and/or have studied in a second language.  Also don’t be scared of qualifying and then moving into aviation (or another field) later as long as you have a commercial legal background you should not find the shift unachievable.

Private practice is very different to studying law.  You need to consider your own personal goals and work out if it is the right route to take.  Time clocks, long hours and working anonymously behind partners in law firms are not for everyone.  Others find it challenging and work hard towards partnership although obviously not everyone can be a partner! 
Advice would be to work diligently and solidly through the degree and be creative when it comes to work experience, apply to a variety of different firms and organisations when planning summer or Easter vacation placements.  Offer to work for free if you have to in order to get the experience and do not limit yourself – write letters to interesting organisations abroad (IATA, ICAO) or government offices.  I recently arranged for two of my Leiden student friends to spend a few weeks with my firm in London, Gates and Partners and also one of them spent a week with a London aviation insurer.  This was invaluable experience for them both and gave them an insight into working in a law firm, in the City and in aviation.  You can always work in a supermarket or bar to pay for the two-week placement.  Pro-bono work is also another good option, I spent the last 3 years working for a law centre in Tower Hamlets on a scheme organised by my former employer DLA via LawWorks which promotes pro-bono work in the legal field and is accessible to students and practitioners alike (http://lawworks.org.uk/). Also, attend free seminars offered by associations, law firms and local law societies as these often provide valuable networking opportunities and are free or offer drastically reduced admission/subscription fees to students.  Be the person who hangs around at the end to ask those “dumb” questions.  It is only by speaking to people who are doing what you want to do that you get a better picture of whether (a) you actually want to do it and (b) how you can get there.  The American Bar Association has a section on air and space law (http://www.abanet.org ), there is also the International Aviation Women’s Association (www.iawa.org) which supports and mentors young women who want a career in aviation (law, aeronautics, business – all disciplines welcome) and my former employer IATA organises conferences (www.iata.org).  On the academic front, Mcgill University (Montreal, Canada) offers a full-time air and space law masters course in English and closer to home Leiden University (Leiden, near Amsterdam, Holland, www.leidenuniv.nl ) offers a masters course also in English which can be taken on a full-time, part-time or distance learning basis (which is the way I hope to complete my course).   In UK we have the Royal Aeronautical Association in London (near Green Park tube) which organises talks and seminars regularly.  Keep an eye on the EU, UK and US government websites (CAA, DfT, FAA and US Department of Transportation especially) for news and updates on aviation regulation. 

10. Anything else you would like to add?

Always push yourself and do not “settle” for anything you are not happy with whether it be at work or at home – you really can do this without being selfish!  I believe there are ways to obtain the life you want via a process of elimination and working towards your goal (although these tend to change along the way) although don’t be so focussed you miss out on the here and now.
 
Finally a big thank you to my Keele friends David Gentleman, Ala Kuzmicki, Alison Arthur, Sam Smith for managing to make it to Brighton registry office on 8 June with 3 weeks notice to watch me marry Mark and to let them know that I am surviving the 45 degree heat….. See you all soon!