I had decided, from quite a young age, that I would like to be a solicitor. I saw it as a well-respected profession and felt that the role comprised a set of skills that would stay with me throughout my working life.
I saw it as an opportunity to help others, and use the skills that I had developed for the benefit of vulnerable members of our society.
Having just this week qualified as a solicitor in the Child Care Department, this has been a long journey for me, as it is for many would-be solicitors and barristers. It has taken me just over nine years from the start of my degree at Lancaster University in 2009 to qualification. I don't shy from the significant financial burden of choosing this career as I continue to pay off a professional loan which will total to around £16,000 by the time it is fully repaid.
As I reach my qualification, soon to embark on those all-important early post qualification years, I consider some of the common misconceptions regarding the profession and whether, overall, it has met my expectations.
It isn't all about the money!
I've read the headlines "fat cat lawyers" and I appreciate that some solicitors earn a lot of money. Dependent on the sector you work in, this isn't the reality. Particularly for legal aid solicitors like myself, we are at the lower end of the spectrum. I accept that it is still a comfortable salary, of course, but feel that the press often misrepresent solicitors in that way. I feel that we go above and beyond for clients because, ultimately, we act in their best interests. If you were to ask legal aid solicitors why they work in their particular field, I believe you would find that it is because they love the area in which they work and want to achieve the best outcome for their client.
Women are at the top!
Admittedly, I expected to work in a firm of mainly men. I am lucky enough, however, to work in a firm of 250+ people and I am surrounded by many successful women. I appreciate that the industry as a whole needs to continue to develop in this regard, and it is encouraging as a young solicitor to have been trained and mentored by mainly women.
It is tough
I expected the profession to be tough. That was clear from the outset; in fact I feel that I chose the profession for exactly that reason - I am the sort of person that likes to be challenged! What I would say, is that perhaps I had an idealistic view of working within law and failed to recognise that solicitors and barristers are service providers. In difficult, often emotive areas such as the area I aim to qualify in, we have to work with our heads and not our hearts. I perhaps underestimated the sometimes very difficult advice we have to give to clients and that sadly, we cannot always give them the answer that they are looking for.
Resilience is key
We have to be mentally resilient in a high-pressure environment. As I discussed in my earlier blog Take a holiday, avoid sunburn and burnout: tips from a trainee solicitor, stress is common in the legal profession and we have to find a way to channel that so that we are as productive as possible. I think it's a skill which I will continue to learn and develop over many years. I think that firms such as mine have come a long way in recent years in recognising this and have begun to make the necessary changes. An example is the introduction of flexible working schemes. Far more needs to be done. Perhaps we have a responsibility as individuals to consider whether we are taking on too much work and consider the need to step back and maintain a work-life balance.
I feel excited about qualifying in 2018. I feel happy to be part of an industry that is progressing and moving forward. Has it met my expectations? Absolutely. There are parts of the job that university and post-graduate study simply cannot prepare you for. We, as a sector, can do more to improve, particularly in respect of work-life balance and work-related stress. To any person wanting to become a solicitor, with the drive and determination to succeed, I would encourage you to do so.
Yes, it is tough and yes, it is competitive and for me, it is absolutely worth it.
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.
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