The work-life quiz with Kara Irwin


Kara Irwin
Title: Director, BPP Pro Bono Centre
Organisation: BPP Law School
Lives: Islington
Education: BA in Philosophy and Russian Studies, University of Virginia; JD, Fordham University School of Law, New York
Work history: 1995: Legal assistant at Winthrop Stimson Putnam & Roberts (now Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman)
1999: Associate, Shearman & Sterling
2003: Legal consultant, International Bar Association, Human Rights Institute
2004: Director, BPP Pro Bono Centre

What was your first-ever job?
Reshelving books at the local public library.

What was your worst experience as a trainee?
As I originally qualified in the US, I was never a trainee, but I have some pretty dreadful memories of life as a very junior capital markets lawyer, compelled to proofread into the painfully wee hours on deals that then died.

Where’s the best place to go if you want to find out what’s really going on in the office?
Antonia, the centre’s administrator, knows everything that’s going on among both staff and students.

What time do you usually leave the office?
By about 8pm.

What do you do at weekends?
Reading, yoga, gardening, debating with my book club, which might more accurately be called a drinking and arguing club.

What’s your favourite restaurant?
Viet Garden on Liverpool Road in Islington.

If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you have been?
A travel writer.

Who’s your hero and why?
Alexandra Fuller, author of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight – she’s a most fearless woman and writer.

What’s the best thing about your job?
Hearing students enthuse about how much they’ve enjoyed work on pro bono projects, how much they’ve gotten out of the experience and their plans for more pro bono work in the future.

What’s the toughest thing about your job?
Chasing students whose dogs ate their pro bono assignments.

What car do you drive?
None – I walk.

What book are you currently reading?
Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts’ autobiographical account of his life in the Bombay underworld after escaping from an Australian prison.

What’s on your iPod at the moment?
Ali Farka Toure’s Niafunké.

What’s your favourite children’s book?
Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne.

What’s the most exciting deal/case you’ve worked on and why?
I went on a human rights fact-finding mission in Guatemala when we took a plane up to the northern jungles to interview a man who was testifying about the torture and massacres he’d witnessed in the Guatemalan army in the early 1980s during raids on villages suspected of assisting insurgents. It was the closest I’ve come to such horror and a compelling example of the kinds of human rights violations that international legal instruments are meant to eliminate.

If you were stranded on a desert island what two luxury items would you take?
A long epic historical novel and a Lilo.

What’s the longest you’ve worked without sleep?
Three days straight, with no more than a couple of 10-minute naps hiding in an easy chair in the ladies’ room. I was drunk after two sips of the post-closing champagne.

If a movie was being made about your life, which actor would play you and why?
Meryl Streep, on the theory that she takes interesting roles.

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with and why?
Anyone with whom I’d not be able to communicate – I loathe being bored.