I am in my thirties, the proud owner of a mortgage, and as much as I hate to admit it, it has taken me far too long to qualify.
Much of my adult life has been working in the legal industry at support level but at long last, it is my time to shine. I have a training contract.
They say it's not the destination but the journey that is important, right?
Pffft ….'they' obviously aren't lawyers.
I started out by juggling a law and psychology degree and an 'almost' full-time job in business development with a prominent news agency. Having completed my undergraduate degree, I decided to take the pay cut, move home and follow my legal dream. Like many, this started at secretarial level but progressed to paralegal within six months. I enjoyed the work, but found this to be my ceiling for several years - unable to break through to trainee.
The destination is qualification and if you haven't reached it, it's impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel at times.
Here's some advice (and confessions) from my 10-year journey reaching this point.
1 CILEx or training contract
My preference was to obtain a training contract (now known as a "Period of Recognised Training" with the SRA but we will stick with the adage "training contract" for now). I was offered CILEx a few times but decided to turn it down. This was because I didn't know the area that I wanted to qualify into and the training contract can offer experience in different practice areas.
CILEx can be a great option for those that have found their niche and want to stick to it. It is definitely worth weighing up the differences – especially in terms of cost. CILEx can be around £10,000, whereas the university route can cost at least three times that (student loan options are available for the university route at undergraduate and Masters level).
2 Be prepared
Competition is almost gladiatorial and sometimes firms use rather blanket methods of reducing the stack of CVs – minimum grades being one of them. I'll be the first to say that my grades were not top of the class. But I do have a real eagerness to learn and develop in the job. Unfortunately, a few firms didn't get to see this because of the blanket methods.
At the outset of your training, whether it be undergraduate or CILEx, look at the minimum requirements of firms you like the look of and make sure you don't end up in the stack of non-runners that aren't even reviewed (like me).
3 The 'paralegal springboard'
Paralegals are legal professionals that are not qualified as solicitors, barristers or legal executives.
There is a common belief that a paralegal position will springboard you into a training contract. Because of this, there are increased reports of training being used as 'bait' for cheap, educated labour. Luckily your experience is incredibly valuable. As well as you gaining a working knowledge of the law you can also develop the practical skills required of any lawyer – how to talk to clients (good and bad!), how to deal with your colleagues and how to use your time efficiently. You will also become expert in the six minute TTC (toilet, tea and chat).
The "time to count" and "equivalent means" rules mean that you may also be able to reduce your training contract or be exempt from it altogether.
4 Know yourself: Insight will focus your efforts
Firms can vary in their recruitment processes. Smaller firms tend to look internally for candidates that have proved their worth, while larger corporate firms can use intensive selection days.
A certain amount of insight into oneself is required at this stage. Are you the competitive person to stand out from the crowd in a room full of people, or are you the type of person that is willing to work hard over a long period of time?
I definitely fell into the latter category but ironically obtained my training contract through a high street firm (that wasn't my employer!) as they wanted to develop their business team and were keen to have my experience.
This insight will allow you to focus your efforts on better matched opportunities and also keep up morale.
5 When faced with rejection – learn from it
Yes, I have been rejected.
Endless applications, changes in business structure that make training unavailable and simply being told that I didn't meet the standard for that firm. All bitter pills to swallow at the time.
Despite the rather unceremonious tears shared with my loved ones and the office photocopier, these experiences are valuable and I am glad I went through them. It's ok to be disappointed. Lawyers must be resilient and also learn through experience. Be open to feedback and don't be afraid to ask where you can improve. This continued personal growth will make for a better lawyer in the long run.
I was lucky as I had some fantastic colleagues who believed in me and kept me pushing towards my goal. I even had a training reference from a QC! I just needed to maintain belief that it would all come good in the end.
6 Network your socks off
This is perhaps the biggest part of being a lawyer that cannot be taught in a classroom. Networking can be a baptism by fire for many fledgling lawyers. Naturally, we can often worry about every little detail before such an event "Do I shuffle into a circle and start nodding?", "What if I get someone's name wrong?" or "Do I laugh at a bad joke?" Aside from meeting a few odd characters that disguise casual sexism/ageism as banter or people walking away when they realise you aren't very important, I actually really enjoy networking.
It can act as a conduit for familiarity and trust. That can lead to valuable bilateral relationships which benefit business and personal development.
Start with groups that you share a familiarity or interest with – for example the local Young Lawyers or a hobby related group. That way you can default to particular conversation in an effort to nurture your confidence.
7 Don't neglect your non-legal experience.
For a while, I failed to make a deal out of my previous media experience as I didn't think it was relevant in a legal career. I didn't have it on my Linkedin profile and didn't mention it in interviews. It turns out that this was a massive error on my part as this experience gave me a unique skillset. Once I began to recognise this experience, I started to receive a number of great opportunities including writing for some great national publications. This has given me and my employer some otherwise inaccessible exposure.
Embrace every part of your experience – the law is not everything in a legal career.
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.
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