Studying for fun

Working stressful hours, lawyer and academic Miguel Ángel López Mateo tells us why the International Programmes was a clear first choice
Miguel Ángel López Mateo
"I am a civil law jurist and common law systems were very exotic for me": Miguel Ángel López Mateo
I would absolutely recommend pursuing a course of study with the University of London International Programmes

Miguel Ángel López Mateo currently practises as a lawyer at international law firm Garrigues and works as a professor of law at the University of Murcia, Spain. In between, he studies on the LLM programme. We caught up with him to find out more.

“I would have never imagined myself working at an international law firm,” Miguel begins. “Maybe as a professor, but never as a professor of law at a university. I thought I would become a doctor, an engineer, or a professor of maths. But law?

“One day, I realised that many of the engineers and scientists that I admired were working for companies and that many of the people running those big companies were lawyers and economists. I then became interested in law and, more precisely, in company law and contractual law, so I decided to apply for an LLB at university.

“After a couple of months attending classes I realised that law had a lot in common with maths and physics: it is actually a set of rules as well,” Miguel explains. “I felt really comfortable with an entire new system of rules to discover and to understand. I achieved good qualifications and as a consequence I received an offer from a law firm before I finished the LLB. The biggest law firm in Spain was knocking on my door. As I come from a very little village in the south east of the country that was very exciting for me.

"Given the academic direction of UCL and Queen Mary, University of London, the choice for me was more than obvious."

“So I started working the very day after I took my last exam at university,” Miguel continues. “Some years after that, I decided to start studying a different system of laws. I am a civil law jurist and common law systems were very exotic for me.”

Choosing the University of London International Programmes LLM

“It is very likely, when working at an international law firm, to end up working more than 14 or 15 stressful hours a day and during some weeks you can work an almost perfect 24/7. Taking this into account, it was pretty clear to me that I needed a distance learning program. I looked for the best one and I also conducted some research into the professors lecturing (and authors engaged with) the subjects that I was looking for, namely company law and trust law.

“I found that the professors for these subjects were authors of the Study Guides for the University of London International Programmes LLM. Given the academic direction of UCL and Queen Mary, University of London, the choice for me was more than obvious.”

Distance learning: the advantages

The main advantage is that, through studying by distance learning, I am able to carry on with my life and my career: going home every day to meet my wife and my daughter but at the same time learning new legal rules, concepts and an alternative approach for solving many legal problems,” Miguel explains. “I can also study at my own pace and that would have been impossible otherwise.

"The courses I studied and the ones that I am still studying are very helpful when conducting research for publications and lectures."

“No matter how busy I am in some periods, I always keep on studying,” Miguel stresses. “Simply because I like it; it is a great hobby and quite useful. However, during some terms I simply don’t have the time to study in the way necessary in order to take an exam. During those periods I study for fun, and when I’ve got a little more time I gather all the notes and try to coordinate them in the way required to be useful for an exam.

“I would absolutely recommend pursuing a course of study with the University of London International Programmes LLM,” he enthuses. “That was my choice and I am really happy with it. The courses I studied and the ones that I am still studying are very helpful when conducting research for publications and lectures.”

Distance learning: the challenges

“In every project, there are always some problems and challenges,” Miguel notes. “Perhaps not as many as I expected, as far as understanding the basis of the law is concerned (even though reading and writing in a foreign language and facing legal concepts which do not exist in my country added some difficulties). But in turn, some other issues arose in relation to the differences between academic systems and in relation to academic details. I experienced challenges in adapting my routines and schemes to a different educational system and a different system of learning.

“The forty-five minutes of handwriting during the exams was an unexpected challenge for me and I usually finish the exams with the sensation of having written less than I would have liked,” he continues. “In many senses this is a further challenge and therefore I love it even more.”

Study technique

“I study mainly just for fun, following the path which seems the most exciting, or the most different and useful for research,” Miguel explains. “For example, if whilst studying I find an idea which I think I can use for explaining something else during my lectures, then I change the focus and spend a lot of time reading about it. Sometimes the break lasts a couple of months, or even more.” Miguel advises caution, however. “This is not the best example for a regular student because I have to change my focus very frequently,” he explains. “This method of working can mean that one tends to venture too far into a particular detail or minor question, which might not be useful for the final exam. I would never advise that students stop walking the main road to focus on something different from the core of the subject, whilst simply testing some uncertain possibilities about a given idea.

“The full online access to databases is also great and a further support for research. I would strongly suggest those databases to every student regardless of their interest in the programme. It is a magnificent tool. Use them as frequently as possible!”

Further reading and current legal issues of interest

“I spend most of my time not only with the so called ‘essential readings’ and course books but also looking for additional materials,” Miguel explains. “I start with the further readings as suggested in the study guide and then I move forward. The online legal databases are a good support and I often buy books online.

“During the past few months I have been following the legal development of a new reform on Spanish Company Law with great interest,” he notes. “The original draft of the bill would probably have meant many changes in the most common method used to limit or to hedge the personal liability arising from the exercise of the office of director: namely the appointment of a corporate or a firm as a director of another company. These changes, if they had finally been approved as originally drafted, would have meant that many company representatives would have had to study and reassess their risks.

“In relation to this issue I have been reading different papers and books, some of them written by my professors at the University of London. Amongst these I am reading or about to read The Duty of Loyalty of Company directors: Bridging the Accountability Gap Through Efficient Disclosure (J. Lowry, CLJ, 2009), and The Codification of Directors’ Duties: Capturing the Essence of the Corporate Opportunity Doctrine (Corporate Ownership and Control, 2007).

“I am also very interested in equity and trusts issues,” Miguel continues. “This week I am reading the Privy Council recent judgment in ‘Spread Trustee Company Limited v Sarah Ann Hutcheson & Others’ and some other related previous cases, such as ‘Armitage v Nurse’.”

Academic work

Miguel has recently published research related to the ‘financial assistance prohibition’ in company law. He explains further. “The contradictions of the financial assistance prohibition are extraordinary,” says Miguel. “On the one hand, the misuse of a substantial volume of the assets and the financial resources of a company to the benefit of a shareholder might have a significant potential for the self-destruction of the company itself. A hidden way of returning the investment to the shareholders might also have that potential.

“Similarly, in a broader sense, during years of economic prosperity there is a natural trend to become overleveraged: to act, to purchase and to borrow money as if that situation and tendency would last forever or at least continue.

"The papers that I have published in relation to this question were primarily inspired by the materials studied during the programme. So I feel very grateful to the University of London and to my professors there."

“Many times said overleveraged purchases and investments lead to a subsequent insolvency, harming the shareholders, workers, suppliers, clients, creditors, banks and savers. And when this happens to many and/or to some systemically important companies, the system in the broadest sense is put at risk. Merging structures and financial assistance for the acquisition of shares are examples of tools that have been used in some of those scenarios.

“On the other hand, providing financial assistance for the purchase of shares is just one way, a means by which some of those said behaviours might be performed,” he explains. “Drafting a statutory provision banning that tool might be a mistake, particularly if the prohibition is a broad one which applies regardless of the situation, the purpose, the use of the tool and the consequences.

“The papers that I have published in relation to this question were primarily inspired by the materials studied during the programme. So I feel very grateful to the University of London and to my professors there. Any student who might be interested in this issue can find these two articles in the review ‘Derecho Mercantil’. The articles are entitled: “Asistencia Financiera. Análisis y crítica del derecho vigente. Ley 3/2009”, I and II.

And finally, where does Miguel see himself in five years’ time? “Who knows?” Miguel exclaims. “Five years is a lot of time nowadays. Five years ago I was working for the same law firm and I still enjoy it a lot. So it is quite likely that I’ll be working at Garrigues and lecturing at the University of Murcia for the same reason. However, it is possible to think about a break, shorter or longer, with a secondment in a foreign law firm or University and I would really like to have the chance to have that experience. Working abroad and lecturing abroad for one or two years might be good for me, in terms of my professional career and my lectures in Spain.

“Like many of my peers at the University of Murcia and at Garrigues, I love football and studying new things,” says Miguel. “During the weekends I switch from studying English law to studying the Spanish law and during the breaks I try to improve my English, German and Chinese. I also like walking by the sea early in the morning, or late in the evening. The beaches in the south east of Spain are great, especially during the low season. That is when you can enjoy them the most, and they are perfect for the accumulated stress. Of course, you are all invited, anytime!”

  • This article first appeared in issue 4 (February 2012) of the LLM Newsletter [interview: Leila Zerai].
  • Find out more about studying for an LLM by distance learning.
  • Watch Dr James Busuttil, Director of the Postgraduate Laws programme, give an overview of the LLM: