Why Matthew Tomlinson, dean at the University of Law, is launching a business school in Leeds

Matthew Tomlinson became a corporate lawyer after studying a business and modern languages degree in Paris. It would lead him becoming a dean at the University of Law, writes Ismail Mulla.

The seeds for Matthew Tomlinson’s future career in corporate law, unbeknownst to him, were planted at an early age.

His mother was a big fan of modern foreign languages and Mr Tomlinson started learning French while growing up in the Lake District.

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“She was quite forward thinking,” Mr Tomlinson says. “We had lessons as kids outside of school.”

Matthew Tomlinson.

He ended up studying business and modern languages at Sheffield Hallam University.

“It was a double award degree with Sheffield Hallam,” he said. “It meant that I did half of it in Sheffield and half of it in Paris with a business school called Essec.”

Mr Tomlinson added: “I don’t think I had a clear career destination at the age of 18 and I thought business was a broad subject to study but I also really enjoyed languages.”

Between 2003 and 2005 he was in Paris. It was during this time that Mr Tomlinson got his first experience of working in an office environment when he became an intern at a real estate company, helping source premises in the French capital for luxury brands.

“There were amazing buildings and shop spaces on really renowned, famous streets where you had the likes of Louis Vuitton and other massive international brands looking for flagship stores and retail space,” Mr Tomlinson said.

That gave him a clearer career destination. Having been involved with lease negotiations and seeing the legal input needed to put contracts in place, Mr Tomlinson took an interest in law.

Mr Tomlinson began as a trainee at DLA Piper and after working in corporate law for six years, he wanted a new challenge.

“I was looking for something where I could have more creativity and be a bit more autonomous in how I could influence things,” he says.

The University of Law had opened a new campus in Manchester, where he was based, and needed a corporate lecturer.

Mr Tomlinson said: “I applied and got it. I taught company law and employment law for a year, while I was still in practice.

“I enjoyed it so much that I made the decision quite quickly that I would apply for the first full-time opportunity that there was.”

He eventually became the dean for Leeds at The University of Law in 2018 – helping the institute expand with satellite campuses in Sheffield and Newcastle.

The most rewarding thing about teaching for Mr Tomlinson is being able to make a difference to someone’s career.

He said: “You’ve got students who come from all backgrounds, all walks of life, all different experiences and they are there to get through the same qualifications and they all want to get to the same goal.”

Law has often been viewed as a closed-off profession with a lack of diversity in the industry.

Mr Tomlinson said: “It has often been seen as a profession that you got in by who you know or which school you have come from.

“That was something that I felt quite strongly about correcting. I have been in a position to influence that for the last eight years.”

A lack of diversity is still an issue despite progress being made in recent years, he says.

“It would be naive to think it’s a perfect picture,” Mr Tomlinson said. “One of the things with diversity is that you can’t rest on your laurels.”

He added: “It’s something which is always evolving and it always needs to be reviewed and it needs ongoing protection and infrastructure to ensure institutions reflect what society looks like.

“In the law it’s really important because we are professionals that have been given a responsibility to represent society.

“Society has got to see that profession as a reflection of them and see people who are advising them are actually able to understand and relate to issues in wider society.

“It’s not acceptable to have a profession, which is led by one very narrow quartile of society and advising the population at large.”

Mr Tomlinson has overseen the diversification of the University of Law’s undergraduate programme.

He said: “Over the last five years, we have seen an opportunity to look at how we broaden the subject areas that we deliver.

“We can do that quite credibly based on what we have in law. Criminology and policing both being really good examples of something that’s very associated with law.”

The next step is for the University of Law in Leeds to add a business school, starting this September.

Mr Tomlinson said: “It’s a natural continuation of what we have already achieved. We already have business schools up and running. We have a business school in our London campus, it’s been launched in Birmingham and Manchester as well. We also have it in Berlin.

“For me in my geography, I think it’s going to be a logical addition to what we are delivering.”

He believes that there is real scope with strong employer engagement to help the regional economy grow by supplying talent through the business school. University of Law has a unique student segment compared to other traditional universities in that the majority are “commuter students”.

“They are students that are coming in from within an hour from Leeds,” Mr Tomlinson says. “What I have learnt is that those students are wanting to stay in Leeds.”

The pandemic has been the “biggest challenge” for Mr Tomlinson in his time as dean. However, he says that they have “learnt a lot from it”.

One of the things to emerge over the past couple of years has been the appetite from students to be taught in-person while enabling the University of Law to identify where it can offer flexible learning through remote teaching when required by certain students.

“All of those things have been valuable learnings and it has improved our delivery model going forward,” Mr Tomlinson says.

While he may have chosen to study business because he didn’t have a clear direction for his career, it seems like Mr Tomlinson is very clear on how he wants to take the University of Law forward with business set to play a big part in that.

Curriculum vitae

Title: Dean for Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle at the University of Law

Date of birth: March 30

Lives: Ilkley

Favourite holiday destination: Watergate Bay, Cornwall

Last book read: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Favourite film: A Star is Born

Favourite song: Are you With Me by Lost Frequencies

Most proud of: My children


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James Mitchinson