Alumni Profile: Daniel Sokol

Daniel Sokol Profile Pic In Jacket And TieDaniel Sokol (MSc Social and Economic History, 2002) at then-Green College pursued an academic career in medical ethics before moving into law. He now practises as a barrister at 12 King’s Bench Walk, specialising in clinical negligence, personal injury and higher education law. The Legal 500 (2024) has described him as a ‘singularly impressive lawyer’. He is the President of the Osler Club of London and the first Chair of the Metropolitan Police Research Ethics Committee. He is an award-winning columnist for the British Medical Journal.

Why did you choose the college for your place of study?

I didn’t choose it. It chose me! As an undergraduate student at St Edmund Hall, I lived with medical students and became fascinated by the history of medicine. Although studying modern languages, I far preferred attending lectures at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine on Banbury Road. After one of those lectures, the Director of the Wellcome Unit, Dr Mark Harrison (now Professor), tapped me on the shoulder. I genuinely thought he was going to throw me out. Instead, he mentioned the possibility of an all-expenses paid scholarship to study a Master’s in the subject. I applied and got it.

I think the scholarship must have been linked with Green College, as that is where I ended up. It changed the course of my life. I met my wife, Samantha (a consultant neurosurgeon who is far more eminent and accomplished than me), discovered the Osler Club during a lecture in 13 Norham Gardens, and developed an interest in medical ethics, which I was to pursue for the next few years.

What did you like about your further studies?

The college was beautiful, even by the high standards of Oxford. The people were fun and eclectic, and the food served in the Observatory was outstanding. More than the studying, I remember laughing a lot. The social work students, in particular, were a riot, and many practical jokes were played. It was a college that did not take itself too seriously and this created a wonderful, convivial atmosphere. I vividly remember Sir Richard Doll dancing away one evening in the college bar.

As for the course, it taught me the importance of viewing events, historical or otherwise, from various angles and distances and that this approach tends to produce a richer understanding. I loved the one-to-one supervisions with Dr Hellen Tilley, now an Associate Professor of History and Law at Northwestern, about my work on the history of the Ebola virus, a ghastly haemorrhagic fever first described in 1976. Dr Tilley’s interest in medicine in colonial Africa developed my own interest in the ethics of medical practice and set up the next chapter of my academic life.

Can you give an overview of your current roles?

When I left Green College, I pursued a Master’s in Medical Ethics and a PhD at Imperial College, before working as an academic in a philosophy department and then a medical school. In 2007, I set up and directed the first UK course on applied clinical ethics and sat on a number of committees, including for the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Defence.

The experience with the Ministry of Defence led to my appointment, in 2020, as Chair of the Metropolitan Police Research Ethics Committee, whose function is to review and approve police-related research. There is a much greater emphasis now on evidence-based policing and identifying what works and does not work in policing and crime prevention.

After a few years in academia, I retrained as a lawyer and I was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 2011. I practise mainly in clinical negligence and catastrophic personal injury, from blunders in hospitals to fatal road traffic accidents.

I remain actively involved in medical ethics, providing ethics training to doctors undergoing disciplinary proceedings and writing a regular column for the British Medical Journal. I was fortunate enough to be recognised by the Medical Journalists’ Association with their ‘Best Column’ award in 2015.

In 2023, I became President of the Osler Club of London (OCL), a medical society founded in 1928 in memory of Sir William Osler, which holds regular lectures and events at the Royal College of Physicians in London. Green Templeton has in the past kindly allowed the OCL to use 13 Norham Gardens, Osler’s former home, for some events and I am sure that the warm relationship between the college and the OCL will endure.

Finally, through Alpha Academic Appeals, I head a team of 14 barristers who help students seeking to challenge university decisions, from allegations of cheating to sexual misconduct. Students rarely know how to deal effectively with potentially life-altering allegations, some of which can lead to criminal charges or affect their immigration status.

You have other interests and affiliations too?

Daniel Sokol Holding Pack Of Cards With Arm Outstretched To Another HandI am passionate about close-up magic. As a student in Oxford, I performed at weddings and events, and I worked evening shifts as one of two table-hopping magicians at Smollensky’s American Bar and Grill, a restaurant on Park End Street. The other magician was Sam Strange, a hugely talented magician who appeared in Penn & Teller’s Fool Us and who now tours the world as a duo with Richard Young (as ‘Young & Strange’).

After an interview and a nerve-racking audition in front of magicians, I was admitted to the Magic Circle in 2014. As I now have limited time to practice, I only perform for family and friends.

Finally, I love writing. As an undergraduate at Oxford, I was fortunate to win the Oxfordshire science-writing competition and then started writing light-hearted articles for the student newspapers, Cherwell and the Oxford Student. After leaving Oxford, I wrote for the Guardian, The Times, the Telegraph and the International New York Times.

My new book, co-written with my father (also a lawyer), is entitled A Young Person’s Guide to Law and Justice and seeks to explain law and justice in an accessible, engaging manner to teenagers. It will be published by the Book Guild in late August 2024.

Daniel is on Twitter at @DanielSokol9