From call centre to legal counsel: qualifying without a training contract
Inga Tumurbaatar explains how, over eight years, she went from working in the call centre at N Brown Group to qualifying as a solicitor via the SRA’s ‘equivalent means’ route.
The journey has been neither short nor easy, but it has been the most fulfilling and humbling experience, and has given me the best start to my legal career that I could have asked for.
I was born in Mongolia and moved to the UK with my family shortly before my 13th birthday. My first years in the UK were spent learning English and adapting to a new culture and way of life – beginning during my first week at school when I was told I was due to take a test in Spanish!
I relied on my handy English-Mongolian dictionary to navigate my way through language barriers, combined with a lot of hand gestures to try and express myself – a habit which has stayed with me to this day.
By the time I was studying for my A-Levels my spoken English was much better, but I was yet to master the art of written English. I worked so hard to overcome this language barrier in order to achieve good grades, but I always knew I could do better. One of the most valuable lessons I learnt at college was my ability to persevere and strive for achievement, regardless of the obstacles in my way.
I spent a few years after college working in restaurants and bars and even tried my hand at door-to-door sales. Each role improved my teamwork, communication and leadership skills, but I knew that I wanted more.
Before I began my law degree, I joined N Brown Group as a telephony adviser in the Financial Services division. I loved working at N Brown. Its culture, people and customers made the job very rewarding. But within a year I made the decision to follow my ambition of becoming a lawyer. My managers and colleagues were all supportive and made it possible for me to continue working at N Brown whilst I studied Law at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).
After completing my degree, I stayed at MMU to complete the LPC on a part-time basis. I knew I had more to offer at N Brown and looked for further progression, this time with a legal focus.
The first step was to discuss my career aspirations with my manager and what I had to offer the business. Little did I know this conversation would end up being one of the most important of my life so far! It led to a new role as a communications coordinator, which helped to raise my profile internally and led to an introduction to N Brown’s GC.
Later on, I was offered a role as a compliance assistant in the Legal team. Whilst not technically a legal role, after six years I had finally made it into Legal. This was an opportunity to work closely with our GC and really prove my knowledge, ability and skills as well as my work ethic and commitment to N Brown. Six months later, I was offered a paralegal role – I was almost there, but now started the really hard work.
I had explained to our GC that my goal was to become a solicitor and that to do so I would have to complete a training contract. The problem was that N Brown had never employed a trainee solicitor before: while I had the full support of the team, nobody was sure how it would work.
I had heard of the EMR whilst studying for my LPC. Often dubbed the ‘paralegal route’, the EMR allows work-based learning to be recognised by the SRA with exemptions from the traditional qualification and training requirements. Having researched this route further, it looked like I had found the way to progress from paralegal to solicitor. The next step was to present this option to the GC.
I think out of all the doors I had knocked on and all the conversations I had had in the past, I was the most nervous about this one: partly because I felt a little like I was venturing into the great unknown, but also because this was the final hurdle in my journey to becoming a lawyer. I put a proposal together setting out what would be required, both from me and from Legal, and discussed it with our GC. N Brown as a business was really keen for me to progress with the EMR as it complimented their culture of nurturing talent and providing opportunities for career progression. The process began and I was able to successfully complete my two-year in-house training contract, complemented by a six-month litigation secondment at Eversheds Sutherland.
I am lucky to work in such a forward-thinking, progressive and agile business where I have had the support of colleagues from day one. But I truly believe that opportunities are everywhere and it’s what you make of them that counts. There will be hurdles in any journey, but I learnt to keep knocking on doors (literally!) and pushed myself to have those difficult conversations.
So with the support of my close friends, partner and family, and the unflagging commitment and help of my colleagues and supervisors, I was finally granted an exemption by the SRA and admitted to the roll in May 2018.
Some tips for success
1. Do not be shy to ask for what you need to achieve your dream and have a conversation about it – your initiative and passion to succeed will go a long way.
2. Let your capability and potential be your selling points and be prepared to show that you are worth the investment of time and effort.
3. Treat your proposal to qualify in-house via the EMR with the same care and attention as you would for a training contract final interview.
4. Be prepared to take charge and plan your training, particularly if you are intent on qualifying at an organisation without a training contract programme. Review your learning and progress, identify what areas of work you need more experience in, and be ready to ask for it.
5. When it comes to completing your application for exemption, you will need to evidence your work and experience. I kept a detailed weekly training record of:
- skills used
- lessons learned
- outcomes achieved
- courses, seminars and training workshops completed.
6. Keep calm and enjoy the journey. If you decide to train in-house, I think the depth and complexity of the work will challenge you for all the right reasons. Going on my experience, it will give you an invaluable platform from which to start your legal career.
Regardless of which route you choose, there is no way to get there quicker or faster – each route has its pros and cons. It is up to you to make the most of your circumstances, grab those opportunities and achieve your goals.