Derry mum-of-five Julie Smyth-Leddy says her children’s university adventures inspired her to go back to ‘school’ and complete a Masters in Law in Belfast.
Julie, a true renaissance woman, who owns her own craft business as well as chairing the Derry domestic violence victims’ charity, La Dolce Vita, newly graduated at Ulster University last week.
“The reason I chose to study a Law Masters was largely due to my primary degree being in Law,” she explained.
“I studied Law when I first left school at the age of 18 but life took me off in different directions. Part of the impetus to study this course was prompted by my life journey and the desire to understand more about the areas relating to access to justice.”
Julie worked for a time in journalism and self-employment but she said she was eventually inspired to return to her original chosen field by her children.
“I had the good fortune of having five children, becoming a single parent when my eldest was 11 and my youngest 3.
“The necessity to provide for my children resulted in the founding of my craft business, designing bespoke jewelled bouquets which is still operating today.
“However, as my children matured and started to head off to university, I felt drawn to returning to education and wanted to be a role model for them,” she said.
As chair of La Dolce Vita, which provides counselling and support to people affected by domestic abuse, violence, sexual violence and parental alienation, she was presented with an opportunity to become involved in a pilot programme at Ulster University.
“Ulster University piloted a programme to support those impacted by domestic violence and partnered with Foyle Women’s Aid in an attempt to offer free legal advice to those who needed it.
“This area was of particular interest to me, as I am Chairperson of another local charity which works tirelessly to support those impacted by domestic violence, raising awareness around parental alienation.”
Julie said she was grateful to the law firm Allen and Overy for awarding her a scholarship to pursue her goals.
She said she had doubts to begin with but these were soon overcome.
“It was incredibly daunting at first and I was challenged not only by my initial fears but by the need to effectively manage time, with travel also proving quite difficult.
“However, the course lecturers were incredibly encouraging, as were my children and my fellow students who were a lovely bunch of people, and are now very good friends.”
Julie spoke about her highlights at Ulster University.
“I have had many highlights. My learning has been extensive throughout this course and I have overcome so many personal hurdles and fears.
“But my greatest highlight has most definitely been the people. I have had the privilege of meeting wonderful lecturers who avidly advocate for access to justice, lovely clients who deserve an easier route to accessing justice, and amazing fellow students who I now count amongst my best friends.”
With big plans after graduation, Julie is looking ahead to building a life-coaching business and wishes to combine her legal background with her passion for people.
“I have set up a life coaching business called Rise Transformational Coaching and it is my hope to support others in the pursuit of their dreams.
“Beyond this, my wish is to combine my legal background with my coaching and support those particularly impacted by domestic violence - to know that they can move beyond adversity to strength and transform their life,” said Ms. Julie Smyth-Leddy L.L.M.