Will Thomas KC
MML (French and German)
St John's College

Will was at St John’s College from 1992-1996. He studied Modern and Medieval Languages (French and German), with a year abroad spent at the Sorbonne in Paris. After graduating, he converted to law – completing both the CPE and LPC at the College of Law in Guildford. Will did a training contract at Eversheds LLP, where he qualified as a solicitor in 2001. Will then spent 17 years at Eversheds in Paris, first as an associate, and later as a partner, specialising in international arbitration and public international law. In 2017, Will moved to Freshfields LLP in London, where he is now global head of public international law. In 2021, Will was appointed Queen’s Counsel (QC, now KC), reflecting his extensive practice as a solicitor-advocate. He continues to live between Paris and London.

  1. A little about where you came from before coming up to Cambridge?

I was born in London but spent most of my childhood in the Midlands. I still have lots of family and friends in that part of the world. I was fortunate to attend Wolverhampton Grammar School, which had a long history of sending pupils to St John’s. My first visit to Cambridge was on a school trip. I can remember driving into the centre of the town, in a battered mini-bus driven by our headmaster, and being immediately taken aback by the look of the place.

  1. How do you remember your time at Cambridge?

Pretty intense! There was just so much going on, and all crammed into eight-week terms. It took me a while to get used to the rhythm of so many new activities – academically and socially. I distinctly recall being utterly shattered during the Christmas hols following the end of my first Michaelmas Term. But I loved every minute of it.

  1. Did Cambridge law influence where you are today?

Not really. As a linguist, my only contact with Cambridge law was a few friends who were studying law. But that was it. As someone who has since converted to law, it would be good to see CULS reaching out to non-law students more actively than was the case in my day. To be honest, I fell into law somewhat blindly after graduating; that decision has turned out pretty well for me, but I could probably have done with spending more time at Cambridge seeking advice from the likes of CULS.

  1. Was Cambridge good preparation for what you are doing now?

Definitely. Although I didn’t study law as an undergraduate, my literature-based degree taught me how to write. As a lawyer today, words are essentially my only tool, and Cambridge taught me how to use them. One-to-one supervisions were also brilliant training for life as an advocate – that’s where I learnt to take a question and think on my feet.

  1. How did you manage the stresses of your academic commitments at Cambridge?

One great advantage of the college system is the tight-knit community it fosters; friends, mentors and masters are all literally just a moment away. That means there is always someone to talk to, always a social to go to, always a sporting fixture to attend. That really helps in finding (and forcing) a good work-life balance.

  1. What advice would you give your fresher self?

Make the most of the opportunity to really study for the sake of study; not just to get a degree. you may not get another chance. 

  1. Favourite Cambridge memory?

I’ll give you two. 

One comes from way back when my Dad first took me up to Cambridge at the beginning of term. He proudly drove me into the carpark next to St John’s chapel, reminiscing about his own student days as we went under the archway at the entrance – but forgetting we had my bike standing on the roof-rack above. To the porters’ amusement, that bike duly went straight back to Wolverhampton, flat as a pancake.

Funnily enough, another favourite memory is from just last year, when my college year group reconvened at St John’s to celebrate two 50th birthdays. It was a great reminder of quite how strong the bonds forged at college can be. It’s a very special thing.

  1. If you had your time again, would you choose Cambridge?

Of course! Although I might hesitate slightly longer over whether to study MML or history. In retrospect, I think I’d have made a better historian. But then I probably wouldn’t have found my way to Paris as I have today. Tricky …