Experience: 14 years PQE
Firm: Chesterfield Borough Council
Role: Solicitor, local government & regulatory law team
'I studied Law as part of my GCSE re-sits at Barnsley College, picking it by chance. The lecturer was very good and he got me interested in both learning and the subject itself. It was the start of my journey into the profession.'
I grew up on a council estate in Sheffield. My dad was a steel worker, before being made redundant and unemployed. My mum was a ‘dinner-lady’ and my brothers left formal education at 16. We had no dealings with lawyers.
I went to state schools where discipline was poor, random acts of violence common and the education basic. I left school with the equivalent of 2 GCSE passes and stumbled on law at college whilst re-sitting my GCSE’s. Law was an option and the lecturer made the subject interesting. This was probably the first time I found learning interesting and I was able to learn in a disciplined and safe environment where other students had chosen to be, rather than forced to be.
After taking GCSE and A-level law I studied for a law degree. I chose law because I quite enjoyed it, not as part of a career path. But I realised that solicitors could and did help people from all kinds of backgrounds, so I wanted to pursue a legal career in criminal / social welfare law at a legal aid practice. I funded the LPC by taking out and saving student loans and obtained a training contract at what is now Howells LLP, spending the first 5 years of my career there before moving on to local government.
The biggest hurdle for me was a general feeling that I had no place being a solicitor. Despite studying law at various levels and getting good grades, I felt like I didn’t belong and would be no good at it. I think this feeling came from having no contacts in law, my education and my low confidence. At my first ever job interview for a training contract, the very first question I was asked was ‘what do your parents do?’ My dad was at that time an unemployed former steel worker and it was clear I was not what they were looking for.
At university, I recall giving a very short oral presentation on a case and saying the word ‘clerk’ as clerk, as opposed to ‘clark’. The lecturer made an issue out of this, which was very embarrassing. It’s clearly something that has stuck with me. I always felt that my relatively poor school education put me at a disadvantage. This can be overcome, but sometimes experience is required to be confident enough to have faith in your own legal skills.
I did work experience at a local high street firm, a local Magistrates court and with the CPS, where the training principal asked what kind of law I was interested in. He knew some of the criminal partners at Howells and gave them a call. Being able to name-drop during my interview at the very least gave me something to say.
Training at a firm like Howells, with colleagues from similar backgrounds and dealing with clients who I could relate to, definitely helped my confidence. It helped me gain experience and with experience comes confidence. However, that feeling that I am not as good as someone with a ‘posher’ voice never really goes away.
The profession is not as diverse and accessible as it could be. Self belief is such an important element of getting a training contract and private schools do tend to instil a sense of self confidence. That said, I hope I can demonstrate to students aspiring to a career in law that solicitors can come from all walks of life.
My advice to aspiring solicitors would be to obtain work experience at smaller local firms, local courts, CPS and local councils to help with experience, confidence and contacts. The right firm will help you gain both confidence and experience. Most of all, stick with it, you are good enough and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
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