How would you like someone who has read your book to sum it up in one sentence?
An exploration of how people have managed to gain advice and support with their legal problems in an increasingly complicated world in which rights on paper do not necessarily mean rights in practice.
What book in your field has inspired you the most?
I read Patricia Hollis’ Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government 1865-1914 at the beginning of my PhD work, and it opened my eyes to the ways in which ‘small things’ – like standing for a school board – can have a massive impact in the short and longer term.
Did your research take you to any unexpected places?
My research didn’t take me to any unexpected places, but it did make me look at the towns and cities around me differently… I have spent a lot of time over the last few years spotting legal aid signs in solicitors’ windows and signs directing people to Citizens’ Advice Bureaux (and getting excited and taking photos, to my family’s consternation). It’s a landscape that is there, but which you might not notice unless you are looking for it.
Which writing process do you use (computer, longhand, dictate, other)?
I start off with mind-maps. These are often on an out-sized sticky note, which I then stick to the wall in my office as I start working out what to write! I write on the computer, though I frequently print drafts off and edit/thrash out my ideas that way. Recently, I have discovered the ability to dictate notes into my phone, which helps me capture my ideas if I’m rushing to catch a train or get to a meeting (how often do great ideas come when you are sitting at a desk with a pen?)
Why did you choose to publish with MUP?
I published my first book (Poverty, Philanthropy and the State: Charities and the Working Classes in London, 1918-1979) with MUP, so I already knew how great MUP are to work with. MUP publish the history books I like reading (and buying!) It took some time for me to work out what sort of book Lawyers for the Poor would be – was it a social history? A history of a profession? A legal history? When it became clear that it was a social history book, MUP were my publishers of choice.
What are you working on now?
I am continuing the theme that I explored in Lawyers for the Poor about how we learn about our rights and how we access information and help in times of need, and particularly how technology has enabled this. In Lawyers for the Poor, I explored how radio programmes, newspaper advice bureaux, and telephone helplines were part of this – now I want to look at this in greater depth, and to bring the arrival of the internet into this.
If you could go back and give yourself once piece of advice when starting out on this project, what would it be?
I began work on this project around the time I had my son. There are things I would have done differently in terms of using technology to manage my notes, but mostly… I would have bought the coffee machine I was given by my Dad in the final stages of doing the draft at a much earlier stage… caffeination is key.
If you could have been the author of any book, what would it be and why?
I really wish I’d written anything by Margaret Atwood – excellent storytelling along with a searing critique of the world.
What other genres do you enjoy reading?
I have a massive love of crime fiction, with my favourite authors including Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham, and I really loved Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer. But I also like some sci-fi and speculative fiction, such as books by Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Jasper Fforde, Kate Mascarenhas, and Ben Aaronovitch.
Which authors (academic and not) would you invite to a dinner party?
Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, Harper Lee.
Lawyers for the poor is available to buy now! Kate Bradley is Senior Lecturer in Social History and Social Policy at the University of Kent.