James Buckley-Thorp


You gain confidence from going to Kent. I specifically mean Kent, and not just any university.

Why did you choose to study law at Kent?

Kent was my first choice to study law for several reasons. I was once told by a lawyer that if you intend to practice law, you should aim to study at a lead law school. This was one of my ‘must-haves’.

The second was advice from my brother, and that was to select a university that worked with me, would further not just academic skills but life skills too.

Kent has a highly ranked law school with strong connections with both the judiciary in London and throughout Europe. Kent was my number one when it came to student life satisfaction. To be honest, everyone I spoke to for their opinion, also, highly rated Kent. After assessing this, I knew I needed to get in and study law at Kent.

What were the highlights of your degree programme?

The contact hours on the law programme are unique to Kent. You get a lot more contact time with your mentors, tutors and course leaders, and they limit the number of students in study sessions, so you really get to explore the subject, debate, and discuss.

I personally prefer to study and learn via debate, presenting and seminars. Kent has made this style of learning core to their programme, and that support really helped tie in the information from the lectures. I also really appreciated the guest lectures that the law school would host. One time I will always remember was when Lord Bingham guest lectured. It was really awesome to listen to someone we studied so intensely.

What did you do outside studying? How did these activities develop you as a person?

I was active in the rowing society. As Kent is a campus university, it has a ‘small-town’ vibe around campus which made it really inviting to do new things, go to new places around campus and check out the tons of events taking place every week.

I also got a part-time job at The Venue which was actually quite fun. Due to the amount of activity on the campus, it’s really hard not to get involved. I’ve made friends for life from Kent. In fact my immediate group of friends here in London are all from my Kent days, and I graduated five years ago.

You started your business in 2011, the same year you started your Law LLB at Kent. How did this come about?

I started Rupert and Buckley primarily to serve my rowing team at first. I wanted us to bond and unite ahead of the collegiate boat race. However, the socks and tees were a hit with other teams and societies too, so in a matter of weeks my dorm room became like a tailor’s shop, and I had friends helping day and night in between studying and lectures.

Every morning we would pack the car with the previous day’s orders and deliver them around the campus, city and for those further afield we then went to the post office. We actually became friends with the people at the post office who expected us and ended up giving us Royal Mail sacks to help with the load of orders.

Balancing both my degree and my impromptu startup was tough. I had people say that I shouldn’t do this. However, when you are doing two things you really love, you don’t feel exhausted, or tired, you feel alive. I was learning a real core skill: law. I was also doing business, a new-found hobby and future career for me.

Did you get any help/advice at Kent about starting a business, or were you completely self-taught?

I used to sneak into business lectures from time to time. I had friends on the business course and they would suggest the odd one for me every now and then. The reason why I was covert about this was because I wanted to keep Rupert and Buckley as quiet as possible on campus. I was worried that when people heard that I was running it from my dorm room, that they wouldn’t take me seriously.  So I didn’t tell many people how I was operating it. However, since graduating I have been back to Kent and even talked to Kent business and law students.

Do you have any particular memories of Kent you’d like to share? Or favourite places on or off campus?

The campus was split into zones in my head. Each zone would play its own special part in my experience. I lived in Darwin College and the rose gardens were my sanctuary. My window looked on to the garden. It was always quiet. I used to go there to have some alone time, headphones + music + book = #peaceandquiet

How did you change during your time at Kent, in terms of your knowledge, skills and characteristics?

You gain confidence from going to Kent. I specifically mean Kent, and not just any university. The balance of life skills is something Kent ensures is available to students. The law course itself has elements of public speaking, presenting and debates worked into the programme, all of which help you find confidence when speaking publicly.

I would say that getting into Kent and onto the law course is no easy task. It’s not just your exam results. It’s who you are, and where you’re going that also matters, which helped refine a plethora of skills. From social skills right down to analytical skills for the course.

In what ways does your law degree help you today?

Even if you are one of the 80% who study law but then never go into practicing it, what you know is that you are on a course that isn’t just for future lawyers. It’s for future leaders as well.

You will find people on this course who are studying law to learn the discipline of studying such an expansive subject. Law continues to prevail when it comes to applying for roles outside of the legal industry. The practical skills alone, knowing your rights, legislation and how to protect yourself as a person and an employer, are vast.

If I were to go back in time, I would do it all over again in the same way. I might potentially see if I could have added a business module into my learning plan, but law was and is still so valuable to me.

You sold Rupert and Buckley in 2016. What are your current priority projects/roles?

I exited Rupert and Buckley in 2016. I remain a small shareholder, but have left the management and directors board. The new group are experts at international expansion and over the last four years they have been rolling the brand throughout the US. In 2020 the brand continues to roll out in new zones such as India and Dubai.

I am now onto my second business. I am launching Bequest in 2020, alongside the support of Aviva and Founders Factory in London.

Stepping into insurance is like stepping back into law. There are procedures, compliance procedures and a lot of legislation to recall. My legal training from Kent made this transition a smooth one. Of course, the other elements such as digitalising and personalising insurance for Millennials and Generation Z is the business side of things, but the practical skills of business are still being served from my law degree.

What advice would you give to students who want to start a business while they’re at university?

If you want to start a business while at university make sure you are prepared for what will become a very high-impact time of your life.

You cannot let your degree or business slip. Remember that you’re paying a lot for your degree, and you still need your degree for the future of your business. It is just as important to you.

Then prepare to upset some friends by not being able to go to every single event, but try and get your friends involved, compensate them. Your friends are more than likely wanting to support and help you in any way they can.

Finally, just go for it. The biggest safety net you have is your degree. If the business is not working, you can stop it. But you cannot go back in time to act on a ‘what if?’. Many people I know had side businesses at university. Personally, I didn’t ever plan for my business to become as big as it has done. You just do what you love, and you keep doing it, move quickly, make mistakes, learn and be smart.

Of course, if you want to reach out, or ask me any questions, you can tweet me @buckleythorp or reach out via Linkedin.

University is some of the best years of your life. If I could go back and do Kent all over again, I would in a heartbeat.