As with most other wide-eyed and over-zealous aspiring lawyers, I based my motivation for becoming a lawyer (almost) entirely on fiction. ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird’ to be exact. When I was gifted the book at the tender age of 12, becoming a lawyer became synonymous with fighting for justice, supporting the oppressed and giving the middle finger to The Man. Add to this the flurry of legal US tele-dramas since the 90’s and I am sure anyone would understand why I felt I could be the next big Annalise Keating (minus the murder!).
The First Ladder: Obtaining the Right Information
Fortunately (or unfortunately, however you may look at it) the UK legal system is very different from the dramatized courtrooms you see on TV. I learned this by chance on a school trip where we had the opportunity to talk to in-house lawyers and I first learned the difference between Barristers and Solicitors. This revelation made me realise the importance of obtaining the right information about any profession you wish to enter into. With the right information, you can mould your expectations and set out a plan as to how to achieve your goal of becoming a solicitor.
The earlier you rid yourself of the media farce the better and this will require a lot of YOUR OWN research. There is a steep learning curve between the world of exams which you may be used to in school and the world of work, especially if you do not know anyone within the legal profession. The same could be said of university. There are countless opportunities/work experience you could be missing out on because of lack of knowledge and don’t count on anyone else to feed this information to you – the competition in law school is real.
Grass Snake: Grades – the be all and end all of your career?
Certainly, the legal industry is becoming ever more competitive and the first thing recruiters use to narrow down the numbers are your grades. The average recruitment criteria for law firms (especially city law firms) is A* – B/C for GCSE’s, AAB at A-Level and at least a 2.1-degree classification. THEY WILL look at your degree grades for each year, especially your first year when you come to apply for work experience placements. For some firms, if you don’t meet this requirement you can’t even physically submit an application form (Computer says Nooo).
My slightly below average A-Level grades (A – Maths, B – English Lit, C – History) marked the first step towards my snake down the career path. The grades that I achieved while not bad, were not good enough for the redbrick universities I had applied to. If it wasn’t for my Mum who tirelessly called universities on the clearing list in between my long bouts of hysterical crying, I may not have gone to university at all *cue violins*.
And if you think things couldn’t get even more melodramatic, think again. Granted, I had obtained a place through clearing (unlike some other students at the time), I absolutely hated the university. I just managed to scrape a 2.1 in my first year and before my 2nd year had started, I decided last minute to cause myself, even more, havoc, by transferring to a different university.
Needless to say, I did not perform well. Once I obtained my certificate with the hideous 2.2 sprawled across it, I thought my career was over. I tried to soldier on and attend law fairs and speak to recruitment departments, but by the twentieth time I heard “..oh, you received a 2.2…well you can still apply, but realistically…[insert the excuse for why they would ignore/throw away my cv without second thought]” I resigned myself to the fact that it was time to start looking into other careers.
The Mother of All Pythons: Dealing With Fear
The first alternative career I came across was that of a company secretary (not in the ordinary secretarial sense – see definition here). I worked in the heart of the city, it was well paid, I had access to directors and high-level management and career progression and transfers within the industry were easy to come by. In addition, I was still able to get involved in major legal projects such as mergers and acquisitions despite my junior level of experience.
While I would never knock the benefits of obtaining experience in different industries and building on transferable skills, I still couldn’t shake my desire to become a solicitor. I felt like it was something that I was destined to become – the only thing that was stopping me was fear.
Where did this fear come from you might ask? Too much information! Ok, so it may seem like I am contradicting myself at this point but you will notice earlier that I said you need to obtain the RIGHT information. Being of Christian faith I notice more now than ever how opinions, headlines, bad advice aka the WRONG information can disrupt a person from reaching their goals and full potential.
At the point, I had chosen to return to a career in law, on paper I was the complete antithesis of the model law student/trainee solicitor. I was quiet, lacked confidence, didn’t have the grades, hadn’t held any particular leadership roles, never got involved in mooting and most importantly I hadn’t followed the ‘correct’ timetable for becoming a solicitor. Add to this the hoo-ha in 2012/13 regarding the lack of graduate jobs, law firms closing down, some discontinuing training contract offers, a lot of people thought I was crazy to give up my job off of a ‘hunch’.
But I took a leap of faith because honestly, I could not see myself as anything but a solicitor. For you, it may be a different career, a business or finances. But if you are scared of others opinions, faith it until you make it. If you are scared of past failures, faith it until you make it. If you are scared of the challenges that are to come, faith it until you make it! I may not have taken the traditional route to becoming a solicitor but I realise now that the traditional route isn’t the ONLY route.
When one door closes, a ladder will appear to lead you through a window: unexpected opportunities
My route just so happened to bring me a few doors away from my home to a small local firm which I had passed every day on the way to school and had previously paid little attention to. I didn’t pay it much attention because the firm didn’t offer the type of work I thought I would be interested in – namely commercial and corporate law. I had previously had some work experience there and had written it off. But after some nagging from the mother (I think she was more worried than I was that I was now unemployed), I decided to hand in my CV. Well, the Managing Partner got back to me that same day and offered me a job as a paralegal – she said that she remembered me from my work experience years back and was impressed.
The Final Ladder: Experience the joy of reaching the top
Honestly, I was still skeptical of working in a non-commercial law firm and being totally transparent it turns out I was right to be – at least to begin with. As a paralegal, I was loaded with pretty much all the admin work for the firm. Just as I was about to flip the table on them and quit, however, I got offered a training contract. Even though at this point I wasn’t entirely happy with my job, I wasn’t stupid – a training contract is better than no training contract and I could still have pursued other vacancies in the meantime.
Well, that meantime never came around. Slowly but surely as I became immersed in more legal work I started to actually love what I was doing. I was working on property transactions for first-time buyers to major developers, I was drafting business asset sale agreements for transfers of small, medium and large businesses and I was sitting in on client meetings with all manner of people and small business owners. And I am still learning new things as my training contract progresses.
As I said earlier there is a steep learning curve between school and work. In the UK not enough time is given between these two periods for most people to actually determine what they would like to do in the future. This is complicated even further in the law industry due to the sheer number of areas you can specialise in. Before working in my current firm I was adamant that I wanted to qualify for a corporate department – now it’s a distant memory. While you may have all the right information regarding the profession you wish to enter into and all the faith in the world to overcome whatever obstacles are in your way – how will you really know whether you are in the right place unless you experience it?
My journey to becoming a solicitor wasn’t straightforward. But I learned from the little information I obtained about the profession at a young age, I eventually overcame my fears and I opened up to new experiences which ultimately helped guide me towards the solicitor I was meant to become. As far as I am concerned, I have won the game of snakes and ladders and I hope to be an inspiration to those who have yet to climb to the finish line.
Find out more about Alice via her blog website www.anewbeing.com or follow her on Facebook and Instagram @anewbeing