Rebecca is a Chartered Legal Executive at Blake Morgan. She is currently studying the Legal Practice Course at the University of Law, and will qualify as a Solicitor in 2023. She reflects on her career to date and considers the various routes to qualification. This article was first published in Legal Women on 16 February 2023.
My long and sometimes bumpy road to qualification began in 2011, when I started my LLB at Bournemouth University. Like many of my peers, I was keen to secure a training contract and qualify as a Solicitor. However, when I graduated in 2015, I was well aware that I was starting from scratch; I was working for a fast-food restaurant, had average A-Level results, and nobody in my family had ever attended university or become a lawyer.
I joined a national law firm as an office assistant before graduation, and applied for paralegal positions and training contracts. Rather naively, I thought that obtaining a training contract would be relatively straightforward once I had some legal experience. I was quickly humbled and received the first of many rejections. This taught me that the legal profession is highly competitive, and it would take a lot more than simply working in a law firm to secure a training position.
A year later, I joined Blake Morgan’s Construction team as a paralegal, a team that I am still a part of today. I’ve learned about construction contracts, how they are structured and how to process them, and gradually gained confidence in negotiation, presentation, document drafting and working alongside other professionals. Most of the junior lawyers that I knew had been paralegals before becoming trainees, so I felt more optimistic about my chances of getting a training contract and continued to apply. However, I was met with further rejections.
It was suggested that I study the Graduate Fast-Track Diploma apprenticeship with CILEx Law School, and qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive.
I 'knew of' CILEx because my mother had previously started her studies, but I didn't know much about what the process entailed. I wasn't prepared to give up on becoming a Solicitor, so I suggested that I could do the CILEx apprenticeship, but study the LPC on a part-time basis and cross-qualify as a Solicitor. I didn't know anyone who had qualified in this way, so I was apprehensive, but my firm and team have been incredibly supportive of my goals, which more than made up for the rejections I faced early in my career!
By June 2022, I was a Chartered Legal Executive and plan to graduate from the LPC and be admitted as a solicitor in 2023. This would make me the first dual-graduate and dual-qualified lawyer in my family. This career route also means that I will be more experienced in Construction law than an NQ solicitor who undertakes the traditional training contract route.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, as during my studies I have faced a number of challenges, including coping with the ill-health of a family member and juggling study, work/furlough as well as just trying to get through a pandemic. Balancing full-time work, intensive study and maintaining a life outside of the two also requires dedication, patience and understanding from others, and I’ve quickly learned to be strict when managing my time, and identify when I need to take time for myself. Further, nobody who qualifies as a Solicitor truly does it alone, and I’ve had unwavering support from my family, partner and friends, which definitely helped on the days when I wondered if I could really do this.
I didn’t want to keep applying for training contracts but I wasn’t prepared to give up on my career.
My advice to aspiring solicitors is to consider all available options and choose one that serves you. The SQE/QWE route, training contracts, CILEx and solicitor apprenticeships are just some of the routes into the profession now, and you shouldn't feel that you've failed if you don't secure a training contract.
Law firms are increasingly promoting different routes into the profession, so please don’t feel like you are doing anything wrong just by choosing the path less travelled. The fact that you are trying to advance your career in such a competitive industry demonstrates resilience and strength of character. Most lawyers have experienced setbacks and rejections, but it’s important to learn from those experiences, dust yourself off and start again.
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