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A day in the life Of...
Kara Swift
Kara Swift
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A day in the life of ... CJ McKinney (Legal Writer)

Date:8 FEB 2016
CJ McKinney, Legal Writer, Full Fact

What is your position and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?

I'm a legal writer for Full Fact. We're a charity, set up in 2010 to carry out fact-checking - a relatively recent concept in this jurisdiction, but an established contribution to public debate in places like the United States. Day-to-day, this involves me researching claims made about the law by politicians, the media and pressure groups, and writing about whether or not they're correct. The grandparents reportedly deemed 'too old to adopt' is a good example on the family law side.

We'll also try to get a correction to the record if a particular claim is demonstrably wrong.

How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?

About a year. I've always worked with charities but studied law, so it seemed like quite a good fit.

What are the people you work for/with like? Any memorable stories?

It's quite a young organisation, and, accordingly, casual in dress and culture. That doesn't extend to research standards of course, so sometimes you feel guilty about interrupting people when they're deep in concentration on a tricky topic, writing to a deadline. I'm lucky that Joshua Rozenberg advises us on legal work, which is a big help as he comes with a great deal of experience and a high reputation.

We sometimes get asked to do broadcast appearances, and a local BBC radio programme asked me on last month to talk about some work I'd done on asylum support. I spent half the night prepping for it, but they never called. When I got in touch to ask what had changed, they thought I was mad - it was BBC Radio Cumbria, and half the county was underwater that morning...

What is the best and worst part of the day for you?

The worst part is just after an article goes out, typically at lunchtime or in the evening. We've got an image as the arbiters of accuracy in some ways, so the nervousness about whether you've managed to make a howling error never quite goes away - even though it hasn't happened so far.

The early morning media monitoring shift we do on rotation might be the best - it's quite relaxing.

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What adjectives best describe you?


What keeps you motivated?

Trying to improve. Understanding the law and writing for a general audience are two things that you can always get better at, and I'm at an early stage in both respects.

Tea or coffee?

Neither. I drink a lot of orange squash.

What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?

It's great if you're interested in current affairs, research, and/or communicating complex topics.

What song do you listen to the most?

I've become a little obsessed recently with Great Big Sea, a folk band from Newfoundland. The River Driver is one of their best.

How do you enjoy your time outside of work?

I play with East London Hockey Club, to a low but enjoyable standard.

I also volunteer as an Independent Visitor. As family lawyers in particular may be aware, this involves building a relationship with a young person in the care system, which in practice gets us a lot of cool trips and activities around London.

If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?

I don't have any direct experience of its workings in this role. But from what I can see, the system isn't particularly well understood by the vast majority of people who are in the same position as me - outside looking in. More systematic and proactive publication of judgments might help. I've seen shocking claims about family law decisions that turn out to be less dramatic when the written judgment appears, often too late to impact on public consciousness. Of course, as Lucy Reed has said in this column before, transparency goes beyond putting judgments online.

CJ's work can be found on the Full Facts website.

You can follow him on Twitter: @mckinneytweets

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