Why work experience and endurance is key, not just at the age of 21
Progressing a career in the legal sector requires endurance, commitment, and money. To become a solicitor, training can take three years if you’re a law graduate, four years if you’re a non-law graduate, and six years if you’re not a graduate. That is, taking the traditional route studying for an LPC. Many trainee solicitors quit studies prematurely as they struggle to cope with the work load of taking exams and vital work experience at the same time. Many also finish training with large debts, and there’s no guarantee of a job.
However, there are alternatives to this lengthy and very costly route.
Alex Hall is a 30 year-old Paralegal at the Leeds-based law firm, Blacks Solicitors LLP. Alex decided soon after leaving University in 2007, holding a degree in Psychology and Criminology, that she wanted to work in the legal sector. There was just one tiny glitch – she had no legal experience whatsoever, and she didn’t have a law degree.
“It was my mum who suggested law initially when I was quite young, so obviously I did everything I could do to avoid it at first! But for some reason, I just kept getting drawn back, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
“It was only towards the end of my degree that I realised I wanted to work in the legal field, but I don’t like not finishing things that I’ve started so chose to finish my degree.”
To gain some basic experience of the day to day of working in a law firm, Alex took up an Admin Assistant role in the Legal Services Department at Eversheds. After 6 months, keen to gain more hands on legal experience, she became a Junior Legal Secretary at Ford & Warren.
During her time at Ford & Warren, Alex enrolled with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives initially on the Level 3 course, and then progressed onto the Level 6 course (equivalent to a Law Degree, but comprises fewer core subjects).
“The law firms I worked for in the early stages of my career were aware I was studying for my CILEX qualification, so they gave me plenty of opportunities to learn by drafting various documents and carrying out legal research, which meant I could pick up plenty of really valuable hands on legal experience along the way.”
In 2011, Alex joined Blacks Solicitors LLP as a Legal Secretary, after numerous admin and Legal Secretary roles.
“I joined Blacks as a Legal Secretary and was promoted to Paralegal after 2 years. Whilst I was gaining a lot of valuable legal experience in my other roles, the title ‘Secretary’ on my CV seemed to be a huge barrier to securing a Paralegal role.”
“Blacks have been really supportive, during my time as a secretary, the fee earners I worked for gave me legal research tasks to do and experience in drafting documents such as Consultancy Agreements, Terms and Conditions for the supply of Goods and Services and Shareholders’ Agreements, so that I could develop and practice my skills and gain experience. I am now working closely with one of the Partners in the Corporate & Commercial Team at Blacks for the Work Based Learning final stage of the CILEX qualification, who provides me with opportunities to work on matters which I can use as evidence in my logbook that I have met all of the work based learning outcomes set by CILEx.”
Alex has been in training for almost 10 years, and is now 2 months away from becoming a Legal Executive specialising in Corporate and Commercial Law, performing largely the same role as a Solicitor. It certainly was the longer route, but the path Alex has chosen has allowed her to gain vital vocational experience and strengthen her legal knowledge.
“If anyone asked me how to go about working in the legal sector, I’d tell them work experience is definitely key. Apply for as many work experience placements at as many different firms as possible. It’s always a good idea to make the move to change your career, however late, if it’s something you really want to do.”