Gemma Lodge, social mobility ambassador*
I started learning the drums this year, something I have never tried before. It reminds me of when I started my legal training, I had never considered doing that either.
I first joined DLA Piper as an office junior just over 20 years ago. My life experiences at that point meant it did not occur to me that a career in such a highly regarded profession as the law would be open to me.
I had some challenging periods early in life, including a brief spell in local authority care.
I left home at the young age of 16, but I was insistent that I would stay on at school to do my A-levels.
My grades were far lower than they might have been had I benefitted from familial support.
I had already made the decision that university wasn’t for me. Nobody in my family had been and they didn’t have a legal background.
I really didn’t know what I wanted to do and my over-riding desire at that point was simply to be financially independent.
I did not take any pride in being entirely reliant on financial support from the state as I was then.
After leaving school, following a brief two month period working in an office elsewhere, I was fortunate enough to join DLA Piper as an office junior.
Within a year I had been promoted to the role of legal secretary. After undertaking that role for about 18 months, the CILEX route to qualification was pointed out to me by one of the solicitors that I worked for.
I was taken aback as I hadn't thought it was something I might be able to do.
I did some research and jumped at the chance, with immediate and full support from the partnership and my colleagues.
After years of combining part-time study with full-time work handling cases as a legal assistant, I proudly qualified as a legal executive in 2007 before going on to undertake the LPC part-time and eventually re-qualifying as a solicitor in 2011.
It was such hard work, but this route enabled me to earn a living wage alongside studying for my qualifications.
My job as a solicitor is mentally taxing and no two days are the same.
Law is such a highly regarded profession and I never thought someone like me from my background could become a solicitor.
If you don't have that security behind you, it's extremely daunting to take on high levels of student debt to get a degree. But this doesn't mean doors are closed to you.
Working alongside studying was the only way I could qualify and I would encourage others from a similar background to me, who face similar challenges, to look into other routes to qualification.
We all carry our childhood experiences with us and some of us have heavier loads to carry.
I’ve come to realise that imposter syndrome is a daily challenge for those of us from unstable family settings in particular. It’s still something that I battle with, and probably always will.
But it does seem to me that what we lack in confidence is counter-balanced with sheer tenacity.
So, go out there and do your best; no one can criticise you for that, not even yourself.
*In March 2022, we announced with great sadness that Gemma Lodge, former social mobility ambassador and senior associate at DLA Piper, passed away.
"I am saddened to hear of the passing of Gemma Lodge and my thoughts go out to her family and friends," said our immediate past president I. Stephanie Boyce. "She will be missed by so many."
Give non-traditional routes into the profession some thought; they’re under-utilised and not promoted as much as they should be. Experience is highly prized and learning on the job gives you the opportunity to gain more. Traditional routes may be a quicker way to qualification, but that is not the end goal.
Experience, above all, moulds capable individuals into well-rounded lawyers. While you might initially be a little slower off the blocks, you are likely to find yourself able to jump higher over the hurdles along the way.