I was the first from my family to attend university
Amy Dawber, a solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers, shares her path to law.
I am a solicitor in the family team at Slater and Gordon Lawyers, a national law firm with a wide offering of legal services.
I qualified as a solicitor when I was 24 years old. Therefore, many would believe that I studied the LLB, went on to complete my LPC on a full-time basis, and walked straight into a training contract. Easy peasy, right? Wrong!
I left school with good GCSEs and A Levels, but I was unsure what to do next. During school I had expressed an interest in becoming a lawyer, but nobody in my family had studied higher education before and the whole process was daunting. I lacked confidence about whether it would be achievable.
Having worked part-time throughout my A Levels and enjoyed it, I decided to look for full-time roles before deciding whether I wanted to go to university. I was offered a position as a receptionist – little did I know how invaluable this experience would be. I was the typical ‘office junior’ and acted as the first port of call for clients contacting the business. The role gave me a huge insight into how businesses are run, how important communication is with clients/customers, and how first impressions can change the relationship you have with a client/customer going forward.
During my time as the office junior I saw my classmates going to university to study towards their degrees, and it made me realise that it was only my own lack of confidence that was stopping me from doing the same. I decided to apply to study law, knowing I could use a law degree for other career options if becoming a lawyer wasn’t for me. I was given an unconditional offer to study at Lancaster University for the following year.
What vacation scheme are you doing this summer?
I was the first from my family to attend university and so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I found the experience intimidating at first, but I soon settled in.
Unlike many of my classmates, I didn’t have any contacts in the legal sector and felt that the majority were focused on top, city-centre, and/or corporate-related training contracts. I knew straight away that the corporate world wasn’t for me.
I worked part-time throughout my degree, and full-time during the summer months. I found legal work experience hard to come by, and worried about how detrimental this might be to my future training contract prospects.
I finished university with a 2.1 LLB degree and a range of skills from other experiences I had gained. Surely all that working and extra-curricular had to count for something?
All experience is good experience
I was wary about applying for training contracts; not because I didn’t want one, but because I lacked confidence and worried about countless rejections. I wanted to be working full-time again, not spending my time applying for roles that felt out of reach or over-subscribed.
Instead of waiting for positions to open, I made enquiries directly. I sent my CV to local firms, explaining who I was and what I was looking for. Not all replied, but many did, and most were very helpful even if they didn’t have a vacancy available.
Accepting a non-legal role
Soon after my final year exams I was contacted by a small, high street firm about a receptionist role. They had seen my experience of being a receptionist before and were looking for someone to cover maternity leave. Many people doubted my decision to accept this role – why wasn’t I looking for paralegal roles? Why was I going back to what I did before my degree? It is so easy to let other people’s doubts creep up on you. The main thing to me was experience of working in an actual law firm; at that stage, the role itself wasn’t my main focus.
I enjoyed being back in full-time work and I enjoyed the familiarity of the receptionist role. I had expected to leave this firm once the maternity cover contract was up in the search for paralegal work. However, after five short months of working as the receptionist, the firm started to recruit for a paralegal themselves.
After asking if I could apply (out of courtesy more than anything), I was interviewed and offered the position; I was ecstatic. From day one I was fee earning and building up my own case load. I had my own office and secretarial support – I felt like I was a trainee already.
During the paralegal interview process the firm indicated a training contract might be available to the right candidate, and just 12 months later, I was starting mine.
At this stage I hadn’t started my LPC, and my firm encouraged me to study the LPC on a part-time basis alongside my training contract. I didn’t realise that this was even possible. I therefore did my training contract full-time and my LPC part-time at weekends in Manchester which involved a LOT of driving. Sure enough, some 18 months later I had completed my LPC and my period of recognised training; I was a qualified solicitor!
The moral of the story
Leaving university is such a milestone, and the truth is no one really knows what they are doing at first. If I hadn’t worked as a receptionist before my degree, I am certain I would not have been offered the maternity cover contract as a receptionist in my training firm.
My experience has taught me that everything happens for a reason, and when you have determination you can achieve anything you set your mind to – I finished school unsure about my future, and now I’m working as a family solicitor at one of the top law firms in the country, helping people in difficult situations every day. A little patience and trust in the process goes a long way.
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