“I left a Magic Circle law firm – people thought I was mad”

Meet Alice Cutler, a former Magic Circle trainee turned regional commercial property solicitor. After her training contract, she chose to leave the City in search of a better work-life balance. Alice shares how she’s learned to persevere through grief, overcome imposter syndrome and prioritise balance in her life.
Alice Cutler is a white woman with blonde hair. On the left, she stands in an office smiling, wearing a black dress and white jacket. On the right, she is wearing a green, off-the-shoulder dress and a pink sash. She is standing in front of a neon sign at a beauty pageant, with her hand on her hip and smiling.
Photograph: Alice Cutler

I lost my dad when I was nine. Losing someone at that age is so fundamental to your development. It unbalances the earth beneath your feet; what you thought life would be and what you see friends having is no longer your reality. That affected me for years. I especially struggled as a teenager.

I realised early on you can’t rely on the world around you to stay the same. My mum taught me you have to adjust and keep going. She always said: “If you want something, you have to go and get it. It won’t come to you.” That’s exactly what I live by.

In 2015, I was in a car accident which killed my mum. She was driving me, my brother and my cousin to the wake after leaving my aunt’s funeral. The other driver was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving, as he had drugs in his system and fell asleep at the wheel. He veered into us, head on. There was nothing we could have done. I ended up in hospital for eight days with a broken spine, which took years to recover from.

I was angry about the hand life dealt me for a long time. But I know my mum would have said: ”there’s nothing you can do about it now, you just have to make the most of it.” In court, I read a victim impact statement which was really cathartic. I wanted to make sure the driver knew what he’d caused; the landscape of my life was forever changed.

Soon after the accident, I had to finish my A-levels. I loved law from my first AS lesson and knew I wanted to study it at university. But, when I was applying, everything was still fresh from the accident and my health wasn’t great. I couldn’t go too far, so I went to university in Southampton, which was 40 minutes away.

I stumbled my way into the upper echelons of corporate law. I always think, if you’re going to do something, why do it by halves? So, when I started applying for vacation schemes, I started at the top. I had 16 rejections but ended up at Clifford Chance, where I was eventually offered a training contact.

I was thinking, how did I get this elusive Magic Circle training contract? I was the first person in my family to go to university. Growing up, my mum had been a childminder, sold Herbalife products and a bookkeeper. My dad was in agriculture. How did I end up here? Most of my intake were from Oxbridge and I had a massive sense of imposter syndrome.

I’m an open book: I’ll talk to anyone about anything. The more I spoke to people on my training contract, the more I realised lots of people were feeling the same way as me. They felt they had to put on a front as the ‘stereotypical corporate lawyer’, so didn’t feel comfortable speaking up.

In my first seat, I took the initiative and organised a panel event about imposter syndrome. 500 people attended. I convinced the managing partner to be involved and he spoke candidly about his experience with imposter syndrome – how he often had thoughts of not understanding how he’d got into his position.

But overall, my training contract was a strange experience. I moved to London just before COVID hit, so most of my LPC and training was remote. I didn't know anyone in London and felt quite alone at times. I also got an honest insight into the reality of working at this type of firm without the London office, socials and client dinners. Instead, I was sitting in my room every day working into the early hours.

After qualifying, I left Clifford Chance – people thought I was mad. But I’ve got a long bucket list I want to tick off and when you’re in that kind of job, it’s really the only thing you can do. People around me are starting to understand now: you really need to commit all your time to the job and that’s why they pay you so much!

Life is too short to do something you don’t love, and I just didn’t love it. The sense of relief I felt when I left showed me it was the right thing to do. I think my decision to leave was partially a product of COVID, but I also want to have the time and freedom to do other things.

After leaving, I had interviews at several different firms. The more regional firms I spoke to, the more I realised they do high-quality work with great clients. I chose Foot Anstey because of its work with property developers. I have a property company and like looking at planning drawings in my spare time – so to get paid for this seemed a no-brainer.

Even at a regional firm, there’s a lot of expectation. I still have billable targets and demanding clients. The difference is, here you can switch off a little bit. I've also had a lot more responsibility, I run complex transactions with minimal supervision. I recently worked on a £50+ million deal.

Competing in Miss England was a big thing on my bucket list. I competed in Miss Hampshire when I was 17 and it's always something I wanted to revisit. I would never have had the time if I hadn’t left Clifford Chance. I’m definitely not a stereotypical beauty queen, if there is such a thing, but I want to use Miss England as a platform to inspire others and support causes close to my heart.

If you shoot for the moon, you might catch a star on the way down. If there’s something you really want to do, just go for it! Be brave and take a risk: you never know what might happen. A lot of the time, I throw myself into things that are way outside of my comfort zone.

I recently ran my first ever half marathon raising £1,000 for charity! I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to do what I’ve done if I’d second guessed myself.

If you’re considering a career in law, my advice is to think about bringing you to it, rather than it to you. Make sure you consider all your options. Don’t sleepwalk into something because you thought it was the right thing to do. Don’t be disheartened by rejection. It might take you a few years or you might get lucky first time. If you know what you want, bring your best self to that, then I’m sure you’ll find success.

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