Life Audit

Exploring Legal London

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Laura Powell

Nationally recognized travel expert Laura Powell has written about travel for more than 15 years and created the TravelGuide television show for CNN.

VITAL STATISTICS Ernest Svenson POSITION Partner at Gordon Arata McCollam Duplantis & Eagan in New Orleans GOAL Taking in legal London with an eye toward education and the opportunity to take photographs

Ernest Svenson has been to Paris, Tokyo, Amsterdam and Stock­holm.

But he hasn’t been able to make London yet, and that has made this New Orleans attorney feel like he’s been missing out.

“I’ve seen a lot of European cities. But if you’ve seen Euro­pean cities and London is not one of those cities, then there is a big hole,” he says. Not only that, but Svenson says he’s especially interested in England’s capital city because of its importance to legal history. “It’s where the legal systems of 49 of our states came from—it’s a touchstone place historically,” he says.

So Svenson has decided to make a weeklong trip across the pond, enhancing his travel history while experiencing legal history firsthand. And he’s looking to Life Audit for some itinerary advice.

Although Svenson isn’t entirely sure what he wants to do, he does know he doesn’t want to spend every day on an organized tour. He’d rather have a few predetermined destinations that he can get to on his own time, allowing him plenty of time to amble around the historic city and indulge his favorite pastime: photography. “I see the world differently with my camera,” Svenson says.

Life Audit travel expert Laura Powell says Svenson is in for a treat. London is filled with historic legal sites, and because many of them are located in “The City”—the com­pact heart of historic London—he can wander on foot or take a ride on the underground railway, known as the “Tube,” and still see interesting places to photograph.

To kick off this legal-themed trip, Powell recommends checking into the new and centrally located Courthouse Hotel Kempinski. The new five-star hotel once housed the country’s second oldest magistrate’s court, which, at times, served as temporary housing for the likes of Napoleon III, Oscar Wilde and Mick Jagger. The hotel has creatively reclaimed space while preserving its history, Powell says. There’s a restaurant housed in the former No. 1 Courtroom; a bar that has transformed women’s cells into private booths, complete with bunk beds and an ice bucket refashioned from the original Victorian lavatory; and several suites located in former judicial robing rooms.

Regardless of where Svenson decides to stay, Powell urges him to make sure it is centrally located so he has the freedom to travel on foot for his photography. The first stop on Svenson’s legal-scene itinerary, Powell says, should be the Magna Carta. Only four original copies of the document still exist, two of which are in the British Library. Head there to take a peek at this historic charter. Some of the other 150 million items in the library’s collection may also interest him, including original Beatles manuscripts, Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches and notes, and recordings from Nelson Mandela’s trials.

From the British Library it’s not too far to the four Inns of Court. The four—Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, In­ner Temple and Middle Tem­ple—provide support for barristers and students through a range of educational activities. Each is situ­ated on its own unique park-like setting with dining facilities. The lush grounds and architecturally interesting properties provide per­­­fect photo opportunities, Powell says.


If the Inns of Court whet Svenson’s appetite to see some barristers in action, he should head over to the near­by Royal Courts of Justice. Better known as the Law Courts, the famed Victorian Gothic building houses the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Justice for Eng­land and Wales. The courts are open to the public, and Svenson can catch barristers in formal dress and wigs arguing civil cases. (The building and the lawyers also make for great photo opportunities.)

The more famous Old Bailey courthouse—home to London’s Central Criminal Court—will likely provide livelier action than the Law Courts. The building that now houses the Old Bailey is not actually all that old, Powell says. The structure replaced London’s notorious New­gate Prison, where hangings and other forms of public en­­tertainment took place. Viewing galleries are open week­­days to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

Powell also encourages Svenson to take day trips to Ox­ford and Cambridge to visit their impressive law schools and libraries. Each university is but a short day trip away, and both are located in charming towns with noteworthy architecture.

The town of Oxford is located about 60 miles nort­h­west of London. The university’s 38 colleges, libraries and gardens are open to the public. Its famed Bodleian Library, the university’s main research library, holds more than 7 million books. Log on to for more information.

Fifty miles to the north of London lies Cambridge, home to the University of Cambridge. The university is said to have inspired some of the world’s greatest scholars (think Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking). Visitors are welcome throughout the year, though Svenson is advised to call ahead and make prior arrangements if he wants to visit the famed Squire Law Library. For further information, log on to

And when Svenson decides he’s had enough legal history, he can always enjoy the rest of his trip to London. To see the most in the least amount of time, Powell encourages Svenson to take some walking tours. Organized tours offer guided walks through different neighborhoods and on a variety of topics, including local pubs, Jack the Ripper and even subterranean Lon­don. For more information, check out

For even more color, Powell advises Svenson to spend a day in one of London’s many street markets. Camden Mar­ket in north London is best known for funky fashion. Brick Lane offers a bazaar-like setting for almost anything, while Portobello Road is known for antiques. And Petti­coat Lane, probably the most famous of the markets, is known for its cut-price clothing, leather goods and china, Powell says.

When Svenson is ready to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, Powell suggests a short hop along the Thames to Richmond. The town is a short Tube ride from Lon­don and is home to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The gardens offer 300 acres of stunning vistas, a perfect place for Svenson to snap a few photographs and reflect on what he’s seen.


WANTS TO: Visit sites steeped in the history of the law.

WHERE TO GO: The British Library for the Magna Carta, the Royal Courts of Justice to see barristers argue civil cases, the Old Bailey to see barristers argue criminal cases, and the Inns of Court to see the architecturally significant buildings and lush grounds.

WANTS TO: Photograph London.

WHERE TO GO: Street markets like Portobello Road, Camden Market and Petticoat Lane. Walking tours of the city’s subterranean side or Jack the Ripper’s old haunts.



If you want to make sure you are getting a knowledgeable tour guide in Great Britain, just look for the Blue Badge. The badge is the official emblem of the United Kingdom’s Association of Pro-fessional Tourist Guides, a trade union, says Life Audit travel expert Laura Powell. To qualify for the coveted badges, guides must undergo 18 months of training and pass eight written and oral exams. These guides also are the only ones authorized to lead tours of many notable London sites, including Westminster Ab­bey, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral. For more information, log on to

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