District Judge, Northern Circuit
Judge Martin Bland's most life-changing advocacy took place on his first day at Lancaster, when he was challenged by a Law professor to stand up and persuade him in no more than 10 minutes to allow him onto the Law course, alongside the Politics place he had already won.
The 23 year old postman's son, who had left school without A levels, married and had spent the past few years learning a trade as an prize-winning engineering apprentice and studying in the evenings, had nothing to lose. His wife of one year was working to support him through his degree and this was his single chance to succeed. His insufficient qualifications were not going to stand in his way.
He sat before the professor in the crowded admissions hall and spoke from the heart about his struggle to get to university without family or financial support and his determination to do something worthwhile with his life. He won his case, even though his grades for law were not what the University required.
It is not the only debt of gratitude that Martin Bland owes to Lancaster University. In his final year he was wondering about his future, given that there were limited funds for further study and his wife was shouldering all the financial burdens. During a lecture in tax law he realised his wife had been over paying income tax for the preceding three years, which enabled him to claim back more than £3,000 from the Inland Revenue - an enormous sum in 1986.
This was enough to pay for Martin to study for his law finals in Manchester, and to allow him and his wife to have their first child in 1987, because his career and their economic future were assured.
"My time at Lancaster University set me up for life," he says. "Lancaster gave me life chances and I could not have done what I have without it. I was determined to succeed pushed it myself however, and it was up to me to impress on life what I wanted out of it."
Martin relished his time at university. He had left secondary modern school with only a handful of CSEs and one O level and had studied in the evenings and part time during the day for City and Guilds and HNC qualifications from colleges in Blackpool and Preston. He found the university course itself a free-and-easy environment, very different from what he had experienced up to then but also very challenging.
"It was a real revelation," he says. "You were not 'fed' you had to think for yourself and I felt I really thrived. The tutors challenged your assumptions in a way that stayed with me."
His experience of student life was very different from that of his peers. Far from gravitating to the bar after lectures, he left the campus every night to return to his wife in Blackpool and to study. He did however make friends among the students, joined in social events and was an elected member of the Staff-Student Consultative Committee.
"There was no way back for me," he says. "I had to graduate, I could not take a year out - I had to get through the course. It was the best ever experience, for me, although I would have liked to have had the opportunity to be more involved in student life."
Judge Bland's unconventional path into the legal profession has, he believes, given him a practical experience of life, which some of his more privileged colleagues have missed and enriches his viewpoint.
He has been a full-time district judge since February 2010, specialising in Public Law children matters although he also hears civil and matrimonial cases. His first job was with Leslie Harris Solicitors and Advocates, a firm then based in Blackpool, Cleveleys and St Anne's On Sea (where he completed his articles as a solicitor in 1989) This gave him a broad experience of dealing with 'whatever came through the door', but he gradually specialised in family finances and children's cases.
During his 20 years with that firm, was made a partner, became a member of the Children's Panel, was elected President of the local Law Society (2004). He was also a part-time employee of both the Solicitors' Complaints Bureau (as Local Conciliation Officer) and of the Legal Services Commission (as Cost Compliance Officer). He became a part-time district judge in 2000.
Judge Bland is keen to continue his involvement with Lancaster University and has appeared at careers fairs to advise students about the legal profession and also has been involved as a judge in the University Moot competition.