Graduate profile
The Rik Medlik building

Jonathan Cornes

"I spent four very happy years at the University and met many great people."

What attracted you to choose the University of Surrey and to study your course here?

I enjoyed studying languages (having studied French, Spanish and Latin at secondary level) and didn’t want to stop doing that, but, at the same time, I wanted to do a law degree as I wanted to become a lawyer. Surrey had the best courses for languages and law combined, allowing students (at that time) to study linguistics, two languages, and law.

The elements of the law course were also quite unusual, involving French law and other, less common, subjects. I anticipated that this could lead to some international element to my future career.

What is your strongest memory of your time at Surrey – what do you picture first when you think of being here?

When I think of the University, I think of the campus, viewed from the railway station car park, up Stag Hill, to the Cathedral. I spent four very happy years at the University and met many great people.

What is the one thing you would say about Surrey, or the course you studied, to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?

It is over 20 years since I left the University so I imagine much has changed since I was there. However, I think of it as a good place to study, with well-taught courses.

How did you change as a person during your time as a Surrey student, and how has your time here influenced your life and career since then?

I was already a pretty confident person when I arrived and being at Surrey left me feeling pretty content with what I was. I did have a number of vague plans and the course that I undertook left me feeling that I was quite capable of following those.

While I was there, I formed the idea of being a “different kind of lawyer” – a lawyer, but not the sort that you would normally think of. I considered working for the government legal service, as a lawyer with the armed forces, or in the European Court.

Where has your career taken you since leaving Surrey? What do you find most enjoyable about your line of work and why?

My year group left the University in the middle of a recession. I had been promised a training contract with a local solicitor and so had not applied for any elsewhere. Part way through the year for applications, the firm told me that they would not have a place for me. It was too late for me to get a place elsewhere, so I left the University with no training contract, although I did have a place to do the LPC.

In the year after that, I worked in a toy factory and then as a ground-worker for a construction firm. I think the latter in particular stood me in good stead for my job as a lawyer. I was then given the chance to work for nothing at the same firm that had previously let me down. That turned into a training contract and I have since spent all but three of the subsequent 18-year period working in my home town, dealing primarily with litigation.

I have since qualified as a notary public as well and have recently taken over the role of Head of Compliance & Risk Management for my firm which has, over the last ten years, expanded to become a large regional firm. I no longer deal with fee-earning and instead am involved in the management of the firm. So, by one route or another, I did end up being a “different” sort of lawyer.

What are your top tips for students aspiring to work in your profession?

The job is unlikely to be how you imagine it to be, and it is well worth getting some experience of it, first-hand, before you commit yourself to it. That said, the study of law is a stimulating and interesting undertaking, and well worth doing for itself.

Is remaining connected with the alumni network important to you?

As my role within the firm has changed, I have become more and more interested in how other people do their work, and connecting with others has become increasingly relevant for me.


Learn more about our programmes in the fields of Law and Language, Communication and Translation Studies.